Featured Northern Ireland Blog

A brief history of hypocrisy.

Written by Catherine McBride

Northern Ireland’s history is as long and as complex as that of the United States. Rather than tinkering around the edges of the Northern Ireland Protocol, shouldn’t we be understanding why we have it at all? The UK is willing to defend Ukraine’s borders so why won’t it defend its own?

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I find the different political treatment of Scotland and Northern Ireland by Westminster bewildering. Scotland – the renegade desperate to leave the Union was given everything it wanted and more while Conservative and Labour politicians united on bended knee to beg the Scots to vote to stay in the Union in the 2014 Independence Referendum.

In contrast the same politicians are happy to gift control over much of Northern Ireland’s economy to the EU without a second thought. Sure, the Scottish Nationalists are gifted politicians and probably realised that the Westminster wimps could be easily manipulated and that they would be more worried about a country escaping the Union than they would be interested in a country that was happy to stay.

This may be one of the unexpected consequences of the UK’s mass immigration since the end of the Second World War. Many UK politicians understand the pain caused by the partition of India; or the expulsion of the Asians from Uganda; the extermination of European Jews by Germany; or the annexing of eastern Europe by the Soviet bloc, but have no knowledge, nor do they seem to care, about Ireland.

And I must say that this isn’t their fault. Growing up in Australia, I knew very little about Irish history before moving to the UK and I suspect this is also true for many other immigrants. I didn’t know about the population plantation of Ulster by James I/VI, or Cromwell’s invasion, or the Battle of the Boyne, or the independence struggle and the civil war. Nor that the British forces in Northern Ireland in the 1970s, 80s and 90s were peacekeeping forces trying to combat terrorism. After moving to the UK, I did learn that IRA terrorists were as happy to target the peacekeepers as the Loyalists and even the unrelated. There were several bombs planted near City offices in London’s financial district during the 1980’s and early 1990s but thankfully mostly at night when only the cleaners and the US trading desk were at risk. But not all. The huge Canary Wharf bomb in 1996 killed two people, one of who was a Pakistani newsagent who may have known little about Irish conflicts.

But my attention was raised when I heard that this new version of the Northern Ireland Protocol needs to be rushed through Parliament without any legal scrutiny, because they need to restore the devolved Stormont Government before the 25th anniversary of the Belfast Agreement on April 10th. An anniversary expected to be attended by US President, Joe (I’m Irish, but with a Sussex surname) Biden.

Two Royal Charters

Biden may not be aware that the same James I of England and Ireland and VI of Scotland, who in 1606 granted a Royal Charter for a colony to be established on the East Coast of North America, thus enabling Biden’s ancestors to eventually emigrate to America, was also responsible in 1606 and 1609 for the largest plantation of people from Scotland and Northern England to Ulster. Most of the protestants in Northern Ireland do not however live in the official ‘plantation counties’ but instead are descendants of ordinary migrants allowed into Antrim, Down and Armagh after the Elizabethan prohibition on Scottish migrants was removed by James. It is unlikely that the native Gaelic chiefs part of whose land was taken by James to give to the colonists suffered more than the Algonquin tribe whose land was taken to establish Jamestown and the Colony of Virginia, now divided into the Commonwealth of Virginia and the States of Maryland and Delaware – Biden’s own State no less.

I am fully aware that the history of both countries was much more complicated than a mere Royal Charter. But the point is that Protestants have lived in Ireland for as long as they have lived in North America. But who is going to ask President Biden why he thinks James’ Proclamation allowing North American settlements is somehow more valid than James’ Proclamations about settlements in Ireland. If Biden does not accept Northern Ireland’s right to exist, how does he justify America’s (or indeed that of Australia and New Zealand)?

Ironically, the Scots who moved to Ireland in the 1600s may well have been descendant from the original Irish people. Gaelic speaking Irish people migrated north through the Hebrides Islands and settled in Scotland, only 12 miles away at its nearest point, and eventually overcame the native Picts and in doing so the Irish Scotti tribe gave the land its name – Scotland. The right of today’s Protestant to live as British people in Northern Ireland has a complex history which Americans and others would do well to recognise

Meanwhile the Americans have always acknowledged that there are two distinct groups of Irish immigrants in the United States – the Scots-Irish and the Boston Irish. The Scots-Irish were early settler in Virginia, West Virginia and the Carolina’s. They were protestant so welcome in the new Colonies. The Boston or Catholic Irish migrated two hundred years later in the 1800s. Being more recent they have retained a stronger sense of Irishness, and research has shown that their Irish nationalism tends to grow with time rather than decline as we might expect. Why an American identity is not considered sufficient is something worth researching.

King and Country

There will be many Northern Irish families whose relatives fought, were injured or died fighting for the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland in the First World War against the Germans, the Austrians, the Hungarians, the Italians and the Turks, who will be wondering why their family’s sacrifice is no longer appreciated.

They will be wondering why every Remembrance Day, we are reminded, rightly, of the thousands of Indians, Australians and New Zealanders who fought in the First World War, but rarely hear about the 200,000 soldiers in Irish regiments. Many returned to an Ireland just as hostile towards them as the German’s had been. Yet Northern Ireland still sent troops to fight in the Second World War, amongst them Lieutenant Colonel Robert Blair “Paddy” Mayne, DSO & Three Bars, one of the British Army’s most highly decorated soldiers and founder of the SAS.  A regiment that the British now take pride in but which would not have existed without the Northern Irish.

The Northern Irish will be wondering why their loyalty is unwanted and why their sovereignty is being diluted – and at Windsor of all locations. But the truth seems to be that the British Government and civil service are now run by people whose allegiance is elsewhere.

The future

The demographics of Ireland are shifting, Catholics now outnumber protestants, although the non-religious are the fastest growing group. The consequent expectation that Northern Ireland will soon unite with the Republic seems to be as naive as Biden’s belief that any African American who votes for the Republican Party somehow ‘ain’t Black’. Surely there is more to the UK than our religious affiliation. And if not, then parts of England should probably be preparing to be annexed by Muslim Pakistan, while other parts should be preparing to join Orthodox Romania and Bulgaria. In reality, support for Northern Ireland remaining in the UK is solid, partly because so many people from a catholic background recognise the many advantages of the union. This will not however remove the daily barrage of pressures from Irish nationalists and their allies in the USA and elsewhere.

The Northern Ireland Protocol, which was based on a false premise that it was needed to protect the EU’s Single Market while destroying the UK’s Single Market, is the latest destabilising factor. It should not be cemented in place by this new Framework. Ireland and Northern Ireland have been controlling their land border for Excise Duty and VAT for years without requiring a ‘hard’ border. The technology used to control the proposed Red and Green Lanes and the Trusted Trader Scheme should be moved to this land border. We have a trade deal with the EU. All payments and forms are already electronic and custom’s inspection bays can be located well inside each country.

We will hear excuses that the French will now help police illegal immigration if we agree to this revised protocol and overlook its potential to be used to ensure full regulatory alignment with the EU. This excuse will be said with a straight face by some Westminster shill – despite all of the evidence that the French haven’t the slightest interest in stopping the people trafficking even though we have been paying them to do so for years.

We will hear that if we hand over our freedoms, the EU will allow UK based financial firms to operate in the EU – but the Europeans have never trusted Anglo-Saxon capitalism nor its capital markets. Besides this business is being driven out of the UK, along with so many others, by our own Government’s high taxes and our extensive retention of EU regulations.

Dangerous nostalgia

There is a time when we have to leave old wounds alone and get on with life. This was best explained by Kenya’s ambassador to the United Nations, Martin Kimani, in an address to the UN Security Council after Russia invaded the Ukraine:

Our borders … were drawn in the distant colonial metropoles of London, Paris, and Lisbon with no regard for the ancient nations that they cleaved apart…  At independence, had we chosen to pursue states on the basis of ethnic, racial, or religious homogeneity, we would still be waging bloody wars these many decades later. Instead, we agreed that we would settle for the borders that we inherited…  Rather than form nations that looked ever backwards into history with a dangerous nostalgia, we chose to look forward to a greatness none of our many nations and peoples had ever known.”

Not looking backwards with dangerous nostalgia would also be good advice for the EU bureaucrats still trying to punish the UK for leaving their Customs Union. Half of the countries in the EU have very tenuous borders, and very short histories of independence. For many their independence only lasted from the collapse of Czarist Russia or the Austro-Hungarian Empire until their invasion by Nazi Germany only to restart after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

For Sunak, the EU, and the US to demand that Russia respect Ukraine’s borders while they openly disrespect the UK’s borders takes some gall. Parts of what we now know as Ukraine have, within the last hundred years, been part of Poland, Romania, Hungary and of course Russia.

Northern Ireland may be the first domino to fall in the claims of who owns which land and who has the right to live there now. This is not a process that the US should be encouraging. Or maybe Northern Ireland is just another victim of the declinist West, embarrassed by their own history while knowing nothing about anyone else’s.

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About the author

Catherine McBride