Working towards Irish Unity



Ireland and United Kingdom flags on puzzle pieces

A Protestant against partition and for a United Ireland is delighted to present this anonymous opinion piece by a young writer.

‘Ulster’s British!’ The stereotypical outcry of the loyalists who I grew up with. I grew up in a Protestant Loyalist stronghold. My mother’s side of the family were deeply entrenched in the Protestant culture of Ulster unionism. From grandparents in the Orange Order to other relatives uncomfortably close to the UDA, they were Loyalists to the core. As far as they were concerned, I was too. However, despite being raised surrounded by bonfires and union flags I never felt any affinity for this culture. My mother kept me fairly insulated from it, eager for me not to get involved in any of the activities which went on where we lived. However, I began to learn about the history of Northern Ireland and when it came to studying for my GCSE History – my sympathies moved towards those who wished for Irish unity through a peaceful means. Now, I am not a moody teenager who has turned his back on the culture of his family or a wannabe contrarian who gets a kick out of being heretical, but this is merely the conclusion which I came to by studying Irish history and observing political developments. When it comes to the issue of Ireland, I hold two core views – I don’t like partition and I don’t like bombs.

When studying the history of Ireland, I could never understand why it was treated as an imperial backwater. From the Penal Laws to partition as well as the treatment of Catholics by the Stormont administration which ruled Northern Ireland from 1921 to 1973, I was shocked. Partition particularly struck me as an egregious assault on democracy and self-determination. Studying Irish history made me sympathetic to the idea of Irish unity and opposed to any policy of partition.

The 1921 partition of Ireland aimed to annex the maximum amount of territory for the United Kingdom while minimising the number of Nationalists who resided within its borders This explains the rather peculiar situation when you cross the border five times when driving the A3/N54 towards Cavan, four crossings of which occur on a 6 mile stretch of road. The ridiculous border was an anti-democratic project which aimed to manufacture a state which would only cater to one political viewpoint, keeping it in a state of one-party rule. A clear testament to partition being counter to self-determination. The partition was not just a division of the island itself but also of the most Northern province of Ulster which historically consists of nine countries. However, only 4 of these counties – Down, Armagh, Antrim and Derry – had Protestant majorities, while the three counties which were excluded – Cavan, Monaghan and Donegal – had an overwhelming Catholic majority hence their exclusion. The other two counties of Ulster, Fermanagh and Tyrone petitioned to be separate from the new state of Northern Ireland in 1921 but four counties were deemed not to be enough to constitute the new state of Northern Ireland, therefore they were kept in it against their wishes. The arbitrary nature of the Irish border broke the integrity of the province of Ulster and is indicative of Northern Ireland being a ‘plastic state’ whose borders have not developed organically through a democratic process. These points made me increasingly question the artificiality of NI and to now oppose partition.

Partition also has the added effect of dividing the people of Ireland across an ethno-religious dimension making the policy far more toxic. British domination in Ireland was predicated upon the theocratic idea of dividing Loyalists and Republicans along the lines of ‘Protestants’ and ‘Catholics’. This has left particularly Northern Ireland’s every feature of life being divided upon this sectarian fault line and holds us back. Of course, the irony is that my being from a Protestant background and in favour of a united Ireland is in no way an original or unique position. Despite being frequently neglected in certain presentations of history, many individuals who campaigned for Irish unity and independence have come from Protestant or secular backgrounds. Such as Theobald Wolfe Tone, Edward Fitzgerald and Charles Stewart Parnell. Running counter to the typical narrative that unionists are all Protestants and republicans are all Catholics. The policy of partition entrenches the differences between the two groups based on the sectarian divide rather than fostering a secular Irish identity which transcends ethno-religious status. 

Speaking personally, when it comes to what kind of united Ireland I would like to see, I believe there will need to be a devolved administration for the six counties in order to reassure any worried unionists at least for a certain period of time. This will help prevent the unionists’ fears of being marginalised or disenfranchised I believe. The secularisation of Ireland over the past few decades makes the possibility of adopting a shared Irish identity and culture which does not rest upon an ethno-religious divide an attractive and realistic option, allowing for the growth of a more forward looking, plural society rather than one which rests upon sectarianism.

It is not so much nationalism that motivates me but democracy. Britain has been the direct instigator of many of the partitioned borders which we see across the world, from Ireland to India, Cyprus to the Middle East. My dislike of the policy of partition is what motivates my belief that a United Ireland would indeed be a better Ireland and society for everyone.

The young person who wrote this piece is 18 years old, has just completed A-Levels and will begin a degree at university in September. Being from a staunchly Loyalist area they asked to remain anonymous. However should any journalist or researchers wish to further explore their view on Irish Unity we are happy to put them in touch with the author of this piece, subject to their permission.