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Archiver > Scotch-Irish > 1998-02 > 0886879786


From: Tony Knox <>
Subject: PM Blair & Ireland
Date: Sat, 7 Feb 1998 14:29:46 -0500


This Ulsterman has no doubt at all that Tony Blair is doing his best to
achieve a settlement in the North of Ireland. He is a little prone to
assuming that he knows everything, and not taking advice, but he would love
to be the man who resolved a problem that has dogged British governments
for centuries. It required a strong person to say, as his excellent
Secretary of State on the ground, "Mo" Mowlam has done, that "the status
quo is not an option."

Most people in Ulster are anxious for peace. The leaders of the repulblican
movement (and it's worth remembering that the republican movement
represents only a small proportion of nationalists) have recognized that
the "armed struggle" is not going to succeed in getting the British out of
Ulster. Protestant businessmen, among others, have recognised that the
troubles are leaching the heart out of the place, and want a settlement.
The trouble is that to attain a settlement, both sides will have to
compromise, and make do with less than their ideal, and this is causing
problems with people who are unused to comprimising.

It seems to me that the obvious situation is one where a nationalist in a
nationalist area, say Castlederg or South Armagh, can feel as Irish as can
be, speak and educate in the Irish language if they want, and go about
their business as if they were living in the Republic of Ireland. A
unionist in Ballymena should be free to live as British a life as can be,
to be a member of an Orange Lodge and to hold Orange parades and to live
just like any citizen of the United Kingdom. Iwas born and brought up in a
unionist community, educated in Oxford, and I spend most of my time working
in London, so I am very British. At the same time I come from the island of
Ireland, and, as Edward pointed out on a recent post, as soon as I set foot
outside Ireland I am identified as Irish, whether I come from the north or
south. So I am both very British and very Irish. I see no contradiction
myself, and I can't see much practical differnce beween the laws of England
and the laws of Ireland.

What both sides must accept is that they cannot be allowed to impose their
nationalities upon others. Nationalists must not be allowed to impose Irish
culture or laws on unionists who don't want them, and vice versa. Orangemen
should be free to march through Orange areas, but not through nationalist
areas without the consent of local people. Similarly, nationalists should
be free to hold nationist marches in nationalist areas, but not through
unionist areas, without local consent.

It is difficult to see by what right the people of, say Crossmaglen in
County Armagh are ruled from England. If you held a democratic election in
the town of Crossmaglen, or the whole island of Ireland, or in the province
of Ulster, or in the county of Armagh, or, I suspect, in the whole of the
UK, the result would be that Crossmaglen should be ruled by Ireland. The
only election that will yield the present result, which is that it's ruled
from London, is an election held according to a bizarre, arbitrary line
drawn through the middle of Ulster with the sole intention of yielding the
maximum amount of land into protestant hands. That is an unfair situation
that cannot continue.

On the other hand there is equally no reason that I can see why the people
of Ballymena or the Shankill Road should be anything other than British.
They fiercely want to be British, and republicans should stop pretending
that they can be persuaded to want anything else.

A large number of people are feeling their way to a solution along these
lines. Unfortunately, every time in the past that some sort of fair
solution for Ulster has been proposed, there have been people who are
determined to stop comprimise, which they see as a " sell-out", and who use
violence to stir up anger.

Sadly, this is usually in the form of random slaughter of Catholics by my
own, Protestant side, which is exactly what has been happening (in the
face, it must be said, of two deliberately provocative murders of
paramilitary leaders by extreme republicans) in the past few weeks

In the past British Governments have always backed down in the face of
Protestant violence, and it remains to be seen whether Tony Blair will do
the same. If he keeps his nerve, though, and makes it clear that any new
settlement has to be fair to both sides, there is a huge desire for peace
in Northern Ireland, and a real possibility that the two communities can
live as they should, as two distinct, but compementary societies.

I take great hope from the management of the River Foyle. The Foyle and its
tributaries, which include the Derg, the Finn, and the Mourne among many
others, is one of the greatest salmon fishing systems in the British Isles,
and salmon fishing is one of my passions. But the river system is scattered
throughout Counties Londonderry, Tyrone (in British Northern Ireland) and
Donegal (in the Republic of Ireland). As long ago as the 1950s it was
quietly decided it was quite impossible to run one river system from two
separate managements, so for nearly half a century the system has been run
by the Foyle Fishery Commission, which is controlled in harmony by both the
British Government and the Irish Government, and the excellent job that
they do should be enjoyed by anyone who wants to take a day off researching
their ancestry in the graveyards and parish records of these counties.

If it works for fish, why not try it for people?

Tony

~~
Tony Knox
"The mountains skipped like rams,
and the little hills like young sheep." (Psalm 114)

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