There is plenty that could be said on the history of the British in Ireland. We don’t live in a pre-Enlightenment Age and see no reason to “doctor” the facts of history: we must face up to a “warts and all” form of history that aims to tell the truth, without trying to install ourselves on some kind of pedestal where we could do and did no wrong.
But that does not mean that an anti-history, a version of history where everything Britain did was wrong, should be accepted either. The rights and wrongs of the Ulster Plantation are a 17th century question: such things would not be attempted nowadays, not in the West at least, and to analyse them from the perspective of radically altered political realities centuries later would simply be ridiculous.
What should be accepted on all sides is that the Unionist community exists and that they have their rights as human beings and as a community the same as any other human group. They are not going anywhere. Just as the rights and wrongs of the creation of the State of Israel can be endlessly debated, but the Israelis are there now, and must be accepted, so the realities of Northern Ireland include the existence of the Unionist community.
Britain should seek a good relationship with the Irish Republic and with the Gaelic population of Ireland, but should do so without chucking the Unionist people over board. The Partition of Ireland was forced on the country by the IRA, and was accepted by the Catholic Church and other reasonable forces in the South, which opposed the anti-Treaty forces. Partition represented an attempt to recognise the reality that, not only were there two countries here (Britain and Ireland), but that there were two communities here (the Nationalists and the Unionists).
It cannot be right for the IRA to have sought to oppose this settlement by violence. The maximum that could be said is that whole counties with a Roman Catholic majority ought to have the right to choose to join the Republic. I believe Tyrone and Fermanagh have large Catholic majorities and that Londonderry and Armagh have more finely balanced demographic configurations. However, political views cannot be immediately extrapolated from religious affiliations, and opinion polls show that a large percentage of Roman Catholics in Northern Ireland favour the existence of the Union too.
To seek by violence to force the majority in Northern Ireland into a reunification with the South that they didn’t want was simply wrong. On “Bloody Sunday” in 1972, the IRA used violence to try to provoke the British Armed Forces into a violent reponse. The IRA used machine gun fire against the soldiers in what cannot be described as anything resembling a peaceful demonstration. British intelligence prior to the event showed that they were aware the IRA was going to try to provoke civilian deaths in order to blame the British; it is unfortunate that, forewarned, the result was still as the IRA had planned: civilian deaths.
As General Sir Michael Rose has said, ” it was known through intelligence sources that the IRA intended to create a bloodbath by drawing the security forces into a firefight with their gunmen in the middle of the civil rights march”. The soldiers had been ordered not to enter the Bogside, but did so as orders changed when they were subjected to stones and nail bombs from the crowd. People in the Rossville flats were opening carrying rifles and shooting at the soldiers. Indeed, some of the civilian deaths could well have been caused by the Republicans shooting from the flats.
That the people apparently killed by the troops (or in the crossfire, by the Republicans and the troops) were unarmed does not necessarily mean the troops committed any offence. In a calm and clear atmosphere, unarmed people would not have been killed. But in the confusion of a riot with machine gun fire coming from IRA members in the Nationalist suburbs, it is understandable that the soldiers returned fire–and the IRA would be responsible for any deaths that ensued. With Martin McGuinness spotted with a machine gun on Bloody Sunday–he has failed to clarify what he was doing with it–it is more than possible that he himself bears the blame for the whole incident. An intimated witness to the Saville Inquiry has said that Martin McGuinness fired the first shot.
It is a thing of utter repugnance to me that the terrorists are all free, but that they are now seeking to have the soldiers charged. Had there been a peaceful demonstration, nothing would have happened.
It seems clear the Saville Inquiry is as politically motivated as the decision to clear Winston Silcott of the murder of PC Keith Blakelock.
The entire peace process in Northern Ireland is utterly unjust. It forms part of a strategy to pull out of Northern Ireland eventually. And if the province were exclusively inhabited by Nationalists, that would be the correct course of action. But what about the Unionists? They have their rights too. First of all, there should be no undemocratic powersharing. The majority should rule, as it does in the Republic of Ireland. Second, there should be no Fair Employment Agency. In a free society, companies should be free to hire at will. Third, even if a Nationalist majority emerged in Northern Ireland, the counties loyal to Britain should not be handed over. Antrim and Down, strongly Unionist, together have 1.1m people, and if small dependencies such as the Isle of Man survive and flourish, there is no reason why Antrim and Down should not become a Crown dependency even if the other four counties chose to accede to the Republic. Indeed, on a county-by-county basis, there is no reason to suppose Britain would ever have to fully pull out of Ireland.