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SELF-DETERMINATION? The Question Ulster must Answer
Richard Cameron. Ameron Publications, BCM Ameron, London W1N 3XX. ISBN 1 874191 00 X. £5.99.
This book sets out questions which should be pondered by all those genuinely seeking solutions to the problems in Ulster. It is a book which is motivated by a desire to break the stalemate, the policy of containment and 'acceptable level of violence' pursued by the British State. It is a book which seeks to stimulate debate and offer alternatives. The author sets out clearly the present colonial style of government imposed on Ulster by the Westminster parliament; "For almost two decades now Englishmen have been in 111 control over every aspect of life here in Ulster. For the first thirteen yearn, with the exception of a abort period during May 1974, they ruled Ulster unaided, and now, since the fifteenth of November 1986, an unwanted and undemocratic joint diktat consisting of England and Biro has been foisted upon this country".
The author studies arguments for three alternative forms of government: devolution, full integration within Britain and self-determination. Richard Cameron dismisses devolution, the official creed of Paisley's Democratic Unionists, a section of the Official Unionists and the Alliance Party, on the grounds that, "no government can allow a subordinate local government to confront it indefinitely with policies which conflict with its own". That a devolved government would wish to pursue policies at odds with those favoured at Westminster is assumed, (correctly in my view). An example of what happens in such cases which the author could have cited is the abolition of the Greater London Council for political reasons. Devolution,, argues Cameron, would put Ulster people in the position that they were theoretically responsible for the situation on the ground but had circumscribed powers and a fear that Westminster could at any moment abolish them.
Full integration or 'Equal Citizenship' is considered. The author argues that the demographics of the situation renders influence from Ulster on mainland parties negligible. Cameron points out that Ulster has a mere seventeen votes in the House of Commons and little influence on the remaining six hundred and forty MPs. He argues convincingly that the likely result of full integration would be to give power to politicians who view Ulster as an "expendable community" concentrating "pressure for disintegration at the weakest point; the Westminster politicians". He also states that even within mainland Britain, 'Equal Citizenship' does not exist in practice with widespread disparities from area to area; "the great North/South economic divide on mainland Britain, with the prosperous South-East of England having a glut of jobs, money, power and above all, political influence that far outweighs Scotland, Wales and the North of England combined, is all the proof that is needed."
Richard Cameron then advances his favoured solution - an independent State of Ulster. As someone who favours a recognition that the Ulster people have a separate national identity and supports their right to self-determination I looked forward to reading a forthright and positive assertion of these principles. Unfortunately, to my mind, 'self-determination' is presented here more as a tactic than a principle. The reasoning seems to be, 'We can't trust the Brits not to sell us out so we better start thinking about how we can go it alone'. Of course this is a logical argument, but is an argument based on a perceived necessity not on a principle. Furthermore, the author appears to offer very little to the citizens of the new Ulster who come from a Roman Catholic background. He refers to a 'British Ulster' and argues for the maintenance of the English queen as monarch and the British national anthem. He dismisses those of us who would argue that a new symbolism beyond the sterile republican and unionist dichotomy would have to develop. A new flag, a new anthem and no monarchy in the new Ulster are seen as attempts to placate militant republicans. They are dismissed as the ideas of a `lunatic fringe'. There is something quite pathetic about those who cling to the symbols of a British State that long ago betrayed not just the people of Ulster but all of us. A rebellion which seeks to make itself respectable by a nostalgic declared loyalty to the monarch. An independent yet a `British' Ulster. An Ulster which stays loyal to a vision of 'Britain' that exists and probably existed only as a myth. It is also an Ulster which it seems would perpetuate sectarian divisions. Cameron assures us that the new state would be secular yet in another chapter talks about the state promoting the Protestant faith against Rome's 'ecumenist attack'. One feels that Roman Catholics are seen as people to be viewed as guilty of republicanism until they prove themselves innocent. This is something they might find hard to achieve as when one reads through the references to Ulster people one gets the distinct impression that many currently living there are not included in the definition. Those who show any overt loyalty to Dublin would it appears be treated ruthlessly, yet in Chapter 23 those in an independent Ulster showing loyalty to Britain are given a far easier ride.
I believe that this approach is wrong. It is an approach that would doom the people of Ulster to the continuance and intensification of the civil war that rages there. The simple truth about the IRA is that they are able to continue their operations because they enjoy a significant level of support within their communities. They are, to borrow a phrase, `fish swimming in a sea of sympathy'. An independent Ulster would clarify the conflict for what it is - a civil war. It would remove one element - the British State - from a complex situation. That, however, would not be enough to destroy the IRA. The measures put forward in this book to achieve that end are mechanistic - tighter control of movement, better border security, better surveillance and so on. It is questionable if much of what is advocated by Cameron would improve matters. Certainly, the advocacy of an auxiliary police force under RUC control, (a new 'B' Specials), is not done on a comparative basis. Why would this be more efficient than a Citizens' Militia? Why should the police have any anti-terrorist role at all? Some of the suggestions such as 'hot pursuit' into Éire are likely to make matters far worse. The author fails to recognise that the IRA are a consequence of as well as a contributing factor to the sectarian divide. If an independent Ulster built support for its institutions and ethos amongst communities presently dominated by the IRA it would be destroying the roots of that organisation. An independent Ulster could be a new start but only if it is preceded by a new consciousness.
Later chapters concentrate on possible external sources of opposition to an independent Ulster and also consider the economic consequences of the formation of the new State. Possible external opponents are identified as Eire, the USA, the European Community and Rome. The book dismisses the impact of such opposition on different grounds. What is strange about these discussions is that the idea of actually seeking to build support in say England is not mentioned. This is very peculiar when one considers that the average Englishman wants simultaneously a military withdrawal from Ulster and no perceived victory for the IRA. Views which should favour independence!
The discussion of the economic viability of an independent Ulster is based on the concept of 'where there's a will there's a way'. The only concrete suggestions put forward, however, are encouraging overseas investment and borrowing from the banks. Clearly this is not an answer to the problem and economists sympathetic to the concept of an independent Ulster should be studying this.
Having offered a critical view of this work by Richard Cameron, I should say that I do see it as an encouraging sign that a debate does exist within the loyalist community. It is a work written with a justified contempt for unionist politicians whose problems are clearly identified with their subservience to Westminster. It is a book which is not afraid to think beyond the Union or of a time when Westminster finds it expedient to dump Ulster. It is a sincere response to these considerations and should therefore be welcomed as part of a process. It is, however, also a work which has been limited by the mindset of the author. It is work which is clearly written with the shadows of the past playing on the mind. The empathy and vision which will be needed to create an alternative Ulster is lacking. For those of us who want such a land to emerge from the turmoil this book represents a number of faltering steps in the right direction.
A THIRD WAY FOR ULSTER
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