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January 1994
The English Left and Ulster

When it comes to discussing the Ulster troubles and the overspill when the Provos come over to attack targets in England, much of the left, from the Socialist Workers' Party and numerous Trotskyist and Leninist sects to such Labour MPs as Ken Livingstone and Jeremy Corbyn give their support in various degrees to the Provisionals and their political aims. This is apparently in the hope that a successful Irish revolution will spark off similar success in Great Britain.

English leftists, deprived by 'political correctness' from criticising most religious, ethnic or sexual minorities are free to criticise one comparatively small group without any feelings of guilt - indeed often in tones of smug self-righteousness. The minority group in question are the Ulster Protestants - the pariahs of modern British politics.

Contrary to the leftist-liberal stereotype, Ulster Protestants are not congenital religious bigots. However, their isolation and vilification in the media over the past twenty odd years of the Provos' alleged 'war of liberation' has driven many into supporting religious and political extremists such as Ian Paisley or even terrorists such as the UFF and the UVF.

Indeed, it is quite reasonable for any minority not to want to submerge itself amongst what it interprets as a hostile society. The Irish Republic is in effect an exclusivist Catholic confessional state where there is a constitutional ban on divorce and abortion for any reason.

Most of the English left embrace the view of Sinn Féin's founder, Arthur Griffith, who stated that Ireland is a nation whose frontiers are fixed by God beyond the power of man to interfere. Consequently, Ulster Protestants who feel no affinity to this exclusivist Catholic-nationalist vision of Ireland are at best disregarded. At worst, they are viewed as deserving everything that the Provos fling at them.

The call of Tony Benn and the SWP for 'troops out and a united Ireland' is an example of the left's ignorance of the true situation in Ulster. Whatever else a sudden pull-out of troops would bring in, it would certainly not be a united Ireland. For years Sinn Féin and their leftist camp followers in England have argued that in such a situation the Protestants would see that the game was up and negotiate a settlement. Surely the recent ferocious upsurge of UFF/UVF terrorism has shown that a substantial section of Protestant opinion would not lie down under Dublin or Provo domination but would resist. In effect the situation would be reversed and the UFF would take the place of the IRA today.

Only the commitment of many thousands more troops by Britain, Éire and possibly the United Nations could disarm the Protestants and impose a united Ireland against their will. The most likely outcome of a sudden unilateral withdrawal of the British presence would be a bloody civil war ending up with two hostile, vicious sectarian police states - a smaller Protestant rump state and a larger Catholic state. We should learn the lesson from the recent experience in the Balkans. The Provo slogan of  'self-determination for the Irish people as a whole' is evidently nonsense as there is no such thing. Whether or not the Provos and the left like it or not there are two distinct loyalties in the island of Ireland. The centralised unitary Irish Republic envisaged by Sinn Féin and the IRA would not recognise this fact of life.

In issue 7, the iconoclastic magazine Alternative Green stated that the concept of territory is a puzzle to the left. Abstractions like working class unity mean little to most folk. The loss of land or territory means everything. Like this journal, Alternative Green favours an independent Ulster in line with its policy to break down the political unit. This view is taken by some groups and individuals in Ulster for various reasons. Some extreme Protestants see it a last ditch fallback position when the British finally betray them. Others see it as a chance to bring back the `good old days' of Unionist Party hegemony. Yet others see it as a positive option seeing that both communities in Ulster are not really wanted by their `parents' in Great Britain and the Republic. This latter view holds that the people of Ulster have more in common with one another than divides them.

There is still hope for a peaceful settlement in Ulster. The main fear of both Protestants and Catholics is the fear of total domination by `the other side'. Only territorial autonomy for distinct communities with full co-operation between them can take away this fear. This is not on offer from the Provos, the UFF or the UVF - but so far only from a small group of community activists who have emerged from the Protestant community to offer the hand of partnership to their Catholic fellow Ulsterfolk.

David Kerr

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