Thursday, January 26, 2006


Events of Shame - Partition of Ireland

A horrible image no doubt Continuing with the 'Events of Shame' feature on United Irelander which looks at shameful episodes in Irish history, today we look at perhaps the most shameful episode of them all - the partition of Ireland. I don't want to dwell too much on the background of events which led to Partition as not only would it take me forever, but I assume most people who read this blog are aware of the basics. I think it would be wise however to at least detail the main background details of Partition for those who might not be aware of them.

There are many factors for the partition of Ireland but it essentially stemmed from the third Home Rule Bill which was set to become law at long last in Ireland in 1914. Home Rule involved Ireland attaining a subsidiary parliament within the United Kingdom to look after domestic affairs. It did not mean separation from the United Kingdom but it was met with fierce opposition in the north-east of the country from unionists who did not want to be ruled from Dublin. Ireland was predominantly Catholic and it was felt by unionists that 'Home Rule is Rome Rule'. However by 1914 Home Rule was set to become law and unionists in the north-east were prepared to resist this democratic reality by force if necessary.

Following threats of civil war on the part of the Ulster Volunteer Force, British politicians began to talk of excluding certain counties in Ulster from Home Rule. This was a policy adopted by unionist leader Edward Carson, a Dubliner by birth, who did not really want Partition but was willing to threaten it to prevent Home Rule for Ireland. The Home Rule leader John Redmond eventually acquiesced to the idea of some form of partition of Ireland - which he was told by Lloyd George would be temporary - but it outraged Irish public opinion and is incidentally the reason why Padraig Pearse dropped his support for Home Rule and became a Republican.

In the end, Partition was eventually imposed on the island of Ireland under the Government of Ireland Act 1920 which involved Home Rule for Ireland in the form of two states, a far cry to what was originally planned. Partition remains arguably the most appalling thing the British have ever done to the Irish people (which is saying something!) and I will now attempt to explain why Partition was so disgraceful.

"You can no more split Ireland into two parts than you can split England or Scotland into parts. Ireland is a nation; not two nations, but one nation. There are few cases in history, and, as a student of history in a humble way, I myself know of none, of a nationality at once so distinct, so persistent, and so assimilative as the Irish." - British Prime Minister Herbert Asquith, speaking in Dublin in 1912.

The will of the people was ignored

The Government of Ireland Act was passed in Westminster in December 1920, two years later in the 1918 General Election Sinn Féin's republicans effectively wiped out the Home Rule party by gaining 73 out the 105 total Irish seats available. In the local elections of 1920, Sinn Féin obtained 80% of the seats, winning a majority in 28 of the 32 counties. It was to be the last national election that the Irish people as a whole were to participate in.

The Government of Ireland Bill had been introduced in Parliament in December of 1919. It was rejected by all sides in Ireland. The pro-Unionist Irish Times commented, "The Bill had not a single friend in either hemisphere, outside Downing Street." Not a single member of any Irish party voted for it. The Irish people did not vote for it and did not want it. Carson remarked, "I know Ulster does not want this parliament." Despite this, unionists ultimately accepted the partition of Ireland. (The Northern Ireland state which unionists achieved was actually a Home Rule parliament which as we know they had previously fought)

An artifical statelet is created

The six-county entity which was called 'Northern Ireland' had never existed before then as an entity in history, politics or economics. Containing six of the nine counties of Ulster, it was a completely artificial area, made by drawing an arbitrary boundary and carving an artificial unionist majority out of a majority nationalist country. Even Lloyd George, the British Prime Minister responsible for Partition, called it "a frontier based neither upon natural features nor broad geographical considerations." In 4 1/2 counties out of the 6 there was a majority of people for independence. The numerical strength of the unionists in the other 1 1/2 counties enabled them to permanently out-vote the nationalists majority in the rest of the northern statelet.

The other three counties of Ulster contained 70,000 unionists who were not included in the new statelet because they also contained 260,000 republicans and nationalists. This was the only reason Britain would not keep the entire province of Ulster in the "UK". The inclusion of Donegal, Cavan and Monaghan would "reduce our majority to such a level that no sane man would undertake to carry on parliament with it," said James Craig, the first Prime Minister of the six counties.

Unionists prepare to rule

The discrimination against Catholics in the 6 county state, which would be angrily challenged decades later by Catholics in the Civil Rights campaigns, began around this time. Between June 1920 and June 1922, in what can only be described as ethnic cleansing, 428 people were killed in political conflict, 8,750 Catholics were driven from their jobs and 23,000 Catholics were driven from their homes.

While the province of Ulster was and is a nine county entity, the unionists recognized that they would not have a sufficient majority to control the historic province.

"We should like to have the very largest area possible, naturally. That is a system of land grabbing that prevails in all countries for widening the jurisdiction of the various governments that are set up; but there is no use in our undertaking a government which we know would be a failure if we were saddled with these three counties." - Edward Carson

Donegal, Cavan and Monaghan were the three Ulster counties that were left out of the 'Northern Ireland' state.

The British treat the Irish with contempt

"We must make it clear that at the end of the provisional period Ulster does not, whether it wants to or not, merge in the rest of Ireland." - Lloyd George

It suited the British government to have a divided Ireland. A divided Ireland could be controlled by the British. Their aim was to retain the whole country by dividing it and thereby making it an untenable entity.

"We never asked for partition and we never wanted it," said Lord Glentroan, a unionist leader, many years later in the Stormont Parliament.

Lloyd George admitted that if the Irish people were asked what form of government they wanted, they would choose an Irish Republic "by an emphatic majority." But the British government made sure that this did not happen. Throughout the rest of 1920, the British waged war on Ireland in order, according to the Irish Times, "to scourge the Irish into obedience, leaving as sole alternative to resistance, the acceptance of the present Bill." That was in November 1920, the bloodiest month of the war.

In that month, 18 year-old Kevin Barry was hanged; in India, Corporal James Daly was executed for leading a mutiny in protest of Black and Tan atrocities; 14 British agents were executed by the IRA in Dublin; 13 Irish sports fans were shot dead by Black and Tans at Crooke Park; two IRA officers and a civilian, Conor Clune, were tortured and shot dead in the guardroom of Dublin Castle and at Kilmichael in Cork, the IRA, taking on a force many times its size in personnel and arms, inflicted the worst military defeat on the British army to date.

A month later, the British passed the Government of Ireland Act.

Final piece of treachery from the British

The British needed to sell the Act to the Irish people but how do you sell to nationalists the partition of their country? Well it was simple - you lie to them. Lloyd George persuaded the Irish delegates in the Anglo-Irish Treaty talks that a Boundary Commission would deliver huge chunks of nationalist-dominated territory in Northern Ireland to the Irish Free State. Michael Collins and Arthur Griffith were aware that the counties of Tyrone, Fermanagh, the southern portions of County Armagh, Down and Derry had Catholic/nationalist majorities. Lloyd George indicated that the Free State would acquire this territory and that the Northern Ireland state would be too small to function in a divided Ireland. Because of this, they signed the Treaty.

As history shows, not only did the Boundary Commission NOT advocate territory for the Free State, in actual fact it advocated that the Free State lose territory to Northern Ireland!

It is for all these reasons that the partition of Ireland is, in my opinion anyway, the most disgraceful thing the British have ever inflicted upon the Irish people. We are all still dealing with the ramifications of the British abuse of democracy and justice almost 100 years later.

Perhaps those reading this who aren't from Ireland and who sometimes wonder why this is such an important issue for Irish people now realise why we care so much.

Partition was a heinous act of shame inflicted upon Ireland. I would hope that the majority of Irish people, and indeed British people and people around the world, would echo my sentiments when I say that it was a terrible wrong and a wrong that one day soon should be righted through the reunification of the island of Ireland.

Ni neart go chur le chéile (No strength without unity)


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