What if: Stormont had attempted to shape an inclusive Northern Ireland in the 1920s? January 21, 2014Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics, Northern Ireland, What if?.
Here’s a question that has long made me wonder, what if with partition the Stormont government and the state in Northern Ireland had been more willing to make the effort to if not share power at least give a greater political space to nationalism? Is it that the two competing nationalisms were too divergent for such, particularly given the divisions between communities (and the manner in which class fed into those divisions?). Was there anything that Stormont could have done? The thought comes on foot of re-reading the interesting book Padraig O’Malley’s The Uncivil Wars from the early 1980s (of which more soon) which examined the North and Ireland and Britain through interviews with various politicians and others during that period and noted that some in Unionism sought something less than power sharing, but an assembly where Nationalists would control committees and therefore exercise some form of authority albeit constrained. It’s something, isn’t it to consider that as recently as the 1980s that was as far as much of Unionism could go towards powersharing, and it wasn’t that far really. But had gestures like that been made from the off was it ever tenable that some sort of modified dispensation – tolerable if unloved – could have been arrived at?
Joseph Lee notes that one education the Catholic Church was deeply hostile to educational reform measures and that:
Craig made a number of genuine if limited attempts to persuade Catholics to cooperate in the new administration. he reserved one third of the places in the police force for them, and invited them to participate on the Lynn committee of inquiry into education. When they failed to respond he seems to have decided that future initiatives for conciliation must come from them.
He also notes that:
Craig appointed Dawson Bates as Minister for Home Affairs to protect his right flank. As secretary of the Ulster Unionist Association since 1905, Bates had acquired an intimate knowledge of local unionist politics, and Craig relied heavily on him to relay grassroots feeling. If he was a useful buffer for Craig against he barbs of the right, however, Craig in return had to allow him a virtually free hand in the area of security. And Bates, aided and abetted by his permanent secretary, Samuel Watt, as well as by other officials, was a confirmed sectarian. He refused to appoint Catholics to his ministry. His Offences Against the State Act in 1924 invested the government with extensive powers of arrest and detention. It was renewed annually until 1931, when it became a permanent adornment of Ulster Unionist political architecture.
In a way the problem breaks down into parts. Was it ever feasible Unionism could be generous enough to make the necessary effort? Was Nationalism/Republicanism able or willing to reciprocate given the nature of the balance of power within the North (for better and worse)? Even had some accommodation been found initially could it have lasted and how would events such as the Economic War, the Second World War and so on impacted upon it. And so on. Of course the further one moves from a divergence the hazier the ability to even attempt to map outcomes.