Britain before 1914 was convulsed by the Irish Question. Since the Act of Union of 1800, Ireland had been governed without the consent of the vast majority of Irish Catholics, who comprised around 3/4 of the population. Home Rule was the suggested solution. But there was a second question, the Ulster Question arising from the presence of a large Protestant minority in the north east of Ireland, who rejected rule from Dublin.
This lecture asks whether better answers are available today.
A lecture by Vernon Bogdanor FBA CBE
The transcript and downloadable versions of the lecture are available from the Gresham College website: https://www.gresham.ac.uk/watch-now/irish-ulster
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- I do face the difficulty really facing anyone on this side of the Irish Sea that Britain has never been comfortable, I think governing Ireland or any part of Ireland. And in 1886, Gladstone, the great liberal Prime Minister said that the long vexed and troubled relations between Great Britain and Ireland exhibit to us the one and only conspicuous failure of the political genius of our race to confront and master difficulty and obtain in a reasonable degree the main ends of civilized life. And secondly, I think there's a feeling that the British have never understood Ireland. In 1912, an Irishman wrote to the "Manchester Guardian," as the "Guardian" then was, claiming that 99 Englishmen out of a hundred knew nothing about Ireland, and that to the average Englishman, Ireland means a troublesome island somewhere in the Atlantic where the natives run half naked over bogs, flourishing shillelaghs, whilst behind them all lurks a mysterious conspirator known as the priest. I hasten to say this has never been my view. Now Ireland was joined to the rest of the United Kingdom in 1801 after Acts of Union passed by the British and Irish parliament. The Act was carried in the Irish parliament by corrupt means and in virtue of a promise of Catholic emancipation, a promise not honored till 1829. And the union never achieved general acceptance in Ireland. The Catholic population of Ireland regarded itself as belonging to a concord and stigmatized people ruled by coercion, especially after the famine of the 1840s in which a million died and another million emigrated. Ireland lost in total around a quarter of her population. And the arrangements for governing Ireland were quite different from those in any other part of the kingdom. Because although Ireland sent MPs to Westminster, her executive and administration were in Dublin. The head of the executive was the Chief Secretary for Ireland, in effect the Secretary of State for Ireland. And he was usually a member of the British cabinet. He tended to spend nine months of every year in London. And after 1871, no Irishman by birth was appointed and some were total strangers to the country. Ireland was administered by boards with members nominated by the chief secretary, almost always belonging to the Unionist and Protestant ascendancy. Arrangements for preserving law and order were also quite different from those in the rest of the country. The Royal Irish Constabulary, by contrast with police forces elsewhere, was a national and centralized force used for internal security and seen by many Catholics as in effect an army of occupation because most of its offices belonged to the Protestant minority. For almost the whole of the 19th century, Ireland was governed by special coercive legislation, which had no counterpart in the rest of the United Kingdom. And the Crimes Act of 1887 allowed the lord left tenant to prohibit organizations he thought dangerous and to allow offenses of agrarian violence to be tried by a magistrate without a jury. And that act remained on the Statute Book until Irish independence in 1922. So the government of Ireland was in form free, but in reality autocratic. The Catholic majority, although represented through MPs in the Commons, played hardly any role in governing or administering the country. Ireland, by contrast with Scotland and Wales, was not integrated with the rest of the United Kingdom. Now in 1885, the Third Reform Act extended the vote to agricultural workers, giving Ireland, for the first time, a popular franchise. And when the legislation was being prepared, the home secretary of the liberal government said, "There would be declared to the rest of the world in larger print what we all know to be the case, that we hold Ireland by force and by force alone, as in the days of Cromwell. Only, we are obliged to hold it by a force 10 times larger than he found necessary. We have never governed and we never shall govern Ireland by the good of its people." And after 1885, nearly every Irish constituency outside Ulster returned to the Commons a member of the Irish Parliamentary Party, a party whose main policy was home rule, what would now be called devolution, giving Ireland responsibility for her domestic affairs, while leaving foreign policy defense, economic policy and social security with Westminster. Now until 1914, the Irish Party always won at least 81 of the 103 Irish constituencies and won almost every constituency outside the province of Ulster. So what was the Irish question? It's become a rather tired joke. As soon as the English thought they had answered the question, the Irish changed the question. But in reality the question hardly changed at all, though it had two parts to it. The first part of the question asked whether a liberal society had the right to rule an unwilling geographically concentrated minority through a form of government that it rejected. Ireland was, as we've seen, governed by those opposed by the majority of her representatives. And whether liberals or conservatives were in power in London, the chief secretary and the Irish administration were in the hands of a party which had only minority support in Ireland. Irish representatives, unless they belonged to the minority Unionist community, played no part in the government of their country. The constitutional implication of the Anglo Irish Union of 1800 had been the legal equality of Ireland with the rest of the kingdom. But to most in Ireland, the relationship seemed one of subordination. Ireland seemed a dependency, not a partner. John Morley, a leading liberal and a former chief Secretary of Ireland said in 1902 that the government of Ireland was, and I quote, "A very good machine for governing a country against its own consent." And Ireland was ruled not by consent, but by a mixture of paternalism and coercion. Now from 1886, the liberal answer to the Irish question was home rule or devolution. But a bill of 1886 was defeated in the House of Commons, 93 liberals refusing to support it. A second bill in 1893 passed the Commons, but was defeated in the Lords. In 1912, the Asquith liberal government introduced a third bill, and by then the absolute veto of the House of Lords had been removed. The Lords could do no more than delay legislation for two parliamentary sessions. So home rule would become law in 1914. Now, home rule, the liberals hoped, would transform Irish attitudes towards the union, which would then become, in Gladstone's words, "A union of hearts." But many otherwise liberal people, liberally minded people were opposed to home rule since they believed that even though tainted by corruption, the union with Ireland was the consummation of a long historical process uniting the British Isles under one parliament. Many remembered the American Civil War from the 1860s in which the South had seceded, but had been forcibly reunited with the rest of the United States. Gladstone, the liberal prime minister who first formulated home rule proposals, had actually supported the right of the South to secede. But Joseph Chamberlain, a liberal Unionist who opposed home rule, was on the side of the North, and many liberal minded people agreed with him. Germany and Italy had also been reunited by force, and many liberal minded people had little sympathy with those who might want to break up those countries. Now, opponents of home rule believed it was but an unstable halfway house, a slippery slope to independence, which in the 19th century, both liberals and conservatives opposed. Liberals saw home rule as preventing independence, not as a means towards it. But a Dublin parliament Unionist argued, would provide an additional forum for Irish nationalists. Inadequacies in the government or administration of Ireland would always be attributed to the British government's failure to provide sufficient funds or concede sufficient powers to the Irish parliament, and the Dublin parliament would give nationalists greater leverage to propose and agitate. Moreover, home rule would not be accepted by Irish nationalists as a final settlement, despite what they said. Their ultimate, albeit unspoken objective, critics suggested, was not a mere revision of the legislative relationship, but independence. And speaking at Cork in 1885, a nationalist leader Charles Stewart Parnell said, "No man has the right to fix the boundary to the march of a notion. No man has the right to say to his country thus far shalt thou go and no further." An independent Ireland would, so many believed, constitute danger to Britain as a hostile base for enemy troops, as it had been during the Rebellion of 1798 when part of the country had been occupied by French troops. Whether opponents of home rule were right that it would've led to Irish independence can of course never been known. The same argument that devolution is a mere halfway house towards independence is currently being tested in Scotland. But in Scotland the jury is still out. We don't yet know. Opponents of home rule believed it would lead, not only to the disintegration of the United Kingdom, but also the disintegration of the empire. "If Ireland goes," Lord Salisbury, the late 19th century conservative prime minister said, "India will go 50 years later." Now in fact, India became independent in 1947, just 25 years after Ireland became independent in 1922. Both were to be partitioned and arguably had been held together only by British rule. So the first part of the Irish question asks, how is Ireland to be governed in a liberal polity? But there's a second part of the question, occasioned by the presence of a large Protestant minority amounting to just over a quarter of the population. Now in most of Ireland, the Protestants were a scattered minority. But in the province of Ulster, which constituted nine counties, as you can see on the map, they were a majority of around 56%. In three of the counties of Ulster, Cavan, Donegal and Monaghan, which are now part of independent Ireland, they were a distinct minority comprising between a fifth and a quarter of the population. In Fermanagh and Tyrone, the Protestants were a more substantial minority, comprising around 45% of the population. But in the remaining four counties, Antrim, Armagh, Down and Londonderry, they were in the majority. And in Antrim and Down, and overwhelming majority. Now, nationalists tended to believe that the Protestant minority had been planted there by James I in the early 17th century to subjugate the Catholics and were therefore an alien element in Ireland. But Unionists argued there had been an English and Scottish presence in Ulster well before the 17th century and before the Reformation. Indeed there had, they insisted, been a Scottish presence in Ulster from earliest times, and immigration from Scotland had been fairly continuous as centuries before 1609. Nor had the plantation in the 17th century covered the whole of Ulster, since three of its counties, Antrim, Down and Monaghan, which is now in Ireland, had not been plantation counties at all. But the Protestant population had come to occupy the more fertile areas, and the Catholics, the less fertile areas. And the Protestants had come to assume the character of a dominant minority enjoying monopoly of power. The Ulster Protestants felt their main links to be with Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom, rather than with the Catholic population of Ireland, from whom they felt separate, not only in religion, but also in nationality and ethnicity. And unlike the majority in Ireland, they accepted the premise on which the act of union had been based, as an expression of a single British nationhood. Now, while in the rest of Ireland, the Protestant population was largely concentrated amongst the better off, in Ulster it embraced every social class. Now in the 19th century, differences between Ulster and the rest of Ireland were accentuated as Belfast became an industrial city. While in agriculture, there was a different system of land tenure in Ulster from that pervading in other provinces. Now, from the end of the 18th century, the rise of Irish nationalism and the growth of a modern sense of Irish identity exacerbated the conflict. And although some Irish nationalist leaders, for example, Parnell himself, were Protestants, Irish nationalism came to be identified with the Catholic majority. And by 1886, the terms Catholic and Nationalist and Protestant and Unionist had become largely interchangeable. And it's this super imposition of a nationalist conflict upon a religious one which explains the persistence and depth of the Irish problem. So the conflict between the two communities in Ireland had deep historical roots. In 1918, Lloyd George was to declare that what had begun as a family quarrel had degenerated into a blood feud. The Protestants were determined to resist submission to a Dublin parliament, which entailed rule by men they regarded as disloyal, a view intensified when nationalist MPs cheered enemy victories in the Borough War. Protestants also believe that a nationalist government would be corrupt and priest ridden. "Home rule," they said, "would mean Rome rule." And Ulster Unionists regarded home rule as being tantamount to expulsion from United Kingdom. They were not mollified by being told that home rule was not the same as separation. And 21st century experience with Scotland may show that they were right. It is too early to tell. Now the scattered Protestant minority outside Ulster comprising largely the middle and upper classes would find it difficult to resist home rule. But in Ulster where opposition to home rule came from every section of society, Unionists could certainly resist by force. But the basic aim of Unionists was not to secure partition, but to defeat home rule. If Ulster succeeds the Unionist leaders that Edward Carson declared in 1911, the home rule is dead. And it's rather ironic that his statue is outside the Northern Ireland parliament at Stormont because he was strongly against partition. He was an Irish Unionist who believed that religious antagonisms would be less strong in a United Kingdom. Whereas for example, Catholics and Protestants disagreed with each other strongly in Glasgow or in Liverpool, the disagreements wouldn't be as fierce as they would be in an independent Ireland. Now, Unionists believed that without industrial Ireland centered on Belfast, an Irish parliament would not be viable, and so home rule would not be viable. But once it became clear that the southern Unionists could not prevent home rule, Unionists were determined to save Ulster from the wreckage. And partition, which began as a tactic to defeat home rule, was to become for Unionists a compromised solution. Very much a second best. The first best was keeping Ireland within the United Kingdom. Now to many on this side of the Irish Sea, Ulster seemed to have right on her side. The case for home rule, after all, was based upon self-determination. But did not Ulster also have a right to self-determination? Ireland, after all, contained one 15th of the British population, Ulster one quarter of the Irish population. The Irish nationalist said they did not want to be ruled by Westminster. The Ulster Protestants said they did not wish to be ruled by Dublin. Now the appeal of Irish, of Ulster Unionists was a very powerful one at a time when British identity was still to a large extent defined by religion because Britain before 1914 was a Protestant country, while Catholics still faced a considerable degree of social discrimination. Religion then was much more important in defining British identity than it is now. Now the Irish nationalist said they did not regard themselves as British, but as Irish, and their Irish identity was, they believed, incompatible withdrawal from Westminster. The Ulster Protestants replied they were British. The nationalist insisted that Ireland was a unity comprising a single nation. Ireland being an island must, they argued, remain under a single unit of government. But that view, Unionists argued, ignored the realities of ethnicity, religion and nationality. Now for one point of view, the Ulster argument was stronger than that of the nationalists because Ulster, unlike the nationalists, was not asking for privilege, the privilege of a separate legislature within the United Kingdom. All they were arguing for was the maintenance of their existing constitutional position as citizens and taxpayers of the United Kingdom. Now in 1886, Joseph Chamberlain, the liberal Unionist, insisted that Ireland consists of two nations. But for an Ulster Unionist, Ulster could not by definition be a separate nation. The essence of unionism was that Ulster was part of the British nation. So Ulster did not seek a home rule Parliament of her own. What she wanted was continued rule from Westminster as part of the United Kingdom. In the words of the Ulster Solemn League and Covenant, signed in 1912, Unionists sought, and I quote, "To preserve for ourselves and our children, our cherished position of equal citizenship in the United Kingdom." The nationalist claim was based on nationhood, the Unionist claim on citizenship. Now, while the Unionists neither understood, nor sympathized with the nationalist claim, few liberals understood, or sympathized with the Unionist claim, nor did they understand the strength of Ulster's case. Many liberals regarded Ulster Unionists as a disaffected minority within Ireland and were prepared to offer extensive guarantees of minority rights in the home rule constitution. But the Ulster Unionist did not regard themselves as a minority in Ireland, but as part of the majority within the United Kingdom. They were not therefore to be conciliated by minority guarantees, however generous. They would not under any circumstances accept rule from Dublin. What then would happen in Ulster when home rule reached the Statute Book? Could she resist home rule? The Ulster questions seemed to raise for many fundamental questions of identity and allegiance, lying beyond the to and fro of electoral politics. The majority in Westminster had no right, Unionists believed, to extrude a part of the country against its wishes, and Ulster had an absolute right to remain in the United Kingdom for as long as its people wished. Were that right to be threatened, Unionists believed that Ulster had every right to disobey the law since the contract binding them to government had been broken. Their loyalty was contractual rather than unconditional. It depended upon the British government respecting their constitutional position. Now, Ulster's stance was strongly supported by many Ireland army officers, a number of whom came from Anglo Irish families and were steeped in the history of the American Civil War, which was part of the syllabus at Sandhurst. And indeed Ulster Unionists were accustomed to assume the mantle of Abraham Lincoln, especially since July, 1913 marked the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg. Home rulers, on the other hand, were seen as rather like the secessionist in the American Civil War. Now in July, 1912, the conservative leader Andrew Bonar Law declared at a rally in Oxfordshire, "They the liberals may perhaps carry their home rule bill through the House of Commons. But what then? I said the other day there are stronger things than parliamentary majorities." And he ended his speech with fighting words. He said, "I can imagine no length of resistance to which Ulster can go in which I should not be prepared to support them, and in which in my belief they would not be supported by the overwhelming majority of the British people." And this and other speeches were thought by supporters of home rule to be outrageous. And indeed Bonar Law as lead of the opposition was suggesting it was permissible to resist an act of parliament by force. He insisted what he was saying was little different from what had been said before and indeed in line with the Whig doctrine of resistance to oppression. Bonar Law used the analogy of 1689, asking, "How can the descendants of those who resisted King James II say they have not a right if they think fit to resist the imposition of a government put upon them by force?" Even further, he was to declare that not only would the Army refuse to obey orders to march against Ulster, but he would encourage them in this course. In November, 1913, speaking in Dublin, he repeated the analogy with 1689, declaring that James II had behind him the letter of the law just as completely as Mr. Asquith has now. In order to carry out his despotic intention, the king had the largest army which had ever been seen in England. What happened? There was no civil war. Why? Because his own army refused to fight for him. And these were not idle threats. Even before the Home Rule Bill had been introduced in the Commons, Sir Edward Carson told Ulster Protestants to be prepared the morning home rule passes to become responsible for the government of the Protestant province of Ulster. The people of Ulster, Bonar Law told the prime minister in July, 1914, knew they had a force which would enable them to hold the province. And with opinion divided in this country, that is the rest of Britain, it was quite impossible that any force could be sent against them that would dislodge them. Therefore, they knew that they could get their own terms, and it was certain they would rather fight than give way. In other words, Ulster would unilaterally declare separation from the Irish parliament once home rule was on the Statute Book. Now if Ulster was determined to resist home rule by force, the British government could only include them in a home rule bill by an even greater display of force, which would require use of the army. And this raised a number of questions. The first was whether the army, some of whose senior officers were themselves Irish Protestants, would observe orders to coerce Ulster into a Dublin parliament. The second was whether the British people would be prepared to support coercing Ulster. The third and perhaps most important question was how Ulster could be permanently held under a Dublin parliament against its wishes. The answer could only be by British armed forces subduing her and turning her into a conquered province, while a home rule parliament was being established in Dublin. And then once that parliament had been established, the Protestants of Ulster would somehow accept home rule so that the troops could be withdrawn. Now, one only has to state such an assumption to appreciate how absurd it was. So from the beginning, the liberal government appreciated that it might well have to exclude Ulster from the Home Rule Bill. But exclusion did not, liberals then believe, implied permanent partition. Of the four dominions then in existence, only New Zealand had not been partitioned. The others, Canada, Australia, and South Africa had all begun with partition, but were now unified, but unified by consent rather than by force. But exclusion raised a difficult question. What was Ulster? What counties should in fact be excluded? Now in March, 1914, Asquith, the liberal prime minister, suggested a compromise. He proposed that on the petition of 1/10th of the electorate, any county in Ulster could choose to vote itself out of a home rule parliament for a period of six years. After that period had ended, it would automatically be included, unless Westminster decided otherwise. Since there would be two general elections during that six-year period, it was open to British electors to decide if they wished to alter these arrangements. Now the practical consequence of that would be that just four counties, Antrim, Armagh, Down and Londonderry would be excluded. But the Unionists demanded more than the four counties, and Carson rejected Asquith's compromise saying, "We do not want sentence of death with a stay of execution for six years." Unionists objected to the fact that after the six-year period, Ulster would be compelled to enter a home rule parliament. They insisted Ulster could enter such a parliament only on the basis of consent. Under Asquith's proposal, the British voter would be required to consent in the two general elections during the six-year period, but Ulster's consent would not be needed. So there seemed to be a deadlock and a real threat of civil war. And at this stage, Winston Churchill, who was the First Lord of the Admiralty in the liberal government, added fuel to the flames. And in a speech which he thought himself was conciliatory, actually contributed to the danger of violence. In March, 1914, he said, "If Ulster seeks peace and fair play, she can find it. She knows where to find it." That was the conciliatory part of his speech, but it was drowned out by the confrontational part, which as so often with Churchill, was the more memorable. "The government's offer was," he said, "it's last. I do not say in detail, but in principle, rebellion or disaffection in Ulster will be firmly put down. Were the Unionists to persist in rejecting the government's offer," Churchill went on, "This would show that they prefer shooting to voting. They would rather use the bullets than the ballot." He then attacked the conservatives. "There is no measure of military force which the Tory Party will not readily employ. They denounce all violence except their own. They uphold all law except the law they choose to break. They always welcome the application of force to others, but they themselves are to remain immune. They are to select from the Statute Book, the laws they will obey and the laws they will resist." He ended with a magnificent peroration. He said, "If there is no wish for peace, if every concession that is made is spurned and exploited, if every effort to meet their views is only to be used as a means of breaking down home rule and of barring the way to the rest of Ireland, if Ulster is to become a tool in party calculation, if the civil and parliamentary systems under which we have dwelt and our fathers before us for so many years are to be brought to the crude challenge of force, if the government and the parliament of this great country and greater empire is to be exposed to menace and brutality, if all the loose wanton and reckless chatter we have been forced to listen to all these many months is in the end to disclose a sinister and revolutionary purpose, then gentlemen," he concluded, "I can say to you, let us go forward together and put these grave matters to the proof." Now, never one to waste a good phrase, Churchill was to repeat this last sentence in his challenge to Hitler in January, 1940. Now, this speech won in great popularity among liberals, but it inflamed the Unionists who were led to believe that the government was about to embark on drastic measures by arresting Carson and other Unionist leaders and overhauling Ulster through a display of military force. And it then rapidly became clear that senior army officers would not take part in any coercion of Ulster. To try to achieve a settlement, King George V called a conference at Buckingham Palace in June, 1914. The issues had, it seemed, been narrowed to matters relating to exclusion, the length of time for which Ulster was to be excluded and the area to be excluded. The conference first considered the area to be excluded, but it never managed to consider the length of time of exclusion, since it rapidly became deadlocked on the question of the area to be excluded. Nationalists insisted on a vote by county, which would mean that just four counties would be excluded. Unionists insisted on a clean cut of the whole province, that is nine counties, three of which are now in Ireland. The conference then considered dividing Ulster, but it came to be deadlocked on Tyrone. John Redmond, the nationalist leader, said he could never agree to Tyrone being excluded from home rule. Carson, the Unionist leader, insisted he could never agree to Tyrone being included in home rule. There was a similar deadlock over Fermanagh. Carson then proposed six-county exclusion so that both Tyrone and Fermanagh would be excluded from home rule. But that too was unacceptable for nationalists. This was in fact the first time for the six-county Ulster, the current Northern Ireland, was suggested as a proper unit for exclusion. In an attempt to break the deadlock, Asquith with great diffidence said that if the conference could agree on everything except Tyrone, some impartial authority might be selected who would undertake the task of fairly dividing Tyrone. That too was rejected both by nationalists and by Unionists. The conference broke down. It had not even discussed time limit. On the day before the conference ended, Asquith wrote a very revealing letter to his girlfriend, Venetia Stanley, of what he said was that most damnable creation of the perverted ingenuity of man, the county of Tyrone. The extraordinary feature of the discussion was the complete agreement in principle of Redmond and Carson. Each said, "I must have the whole of Tyrone or die, but I quite understand why you say the same." The speaker who incarnates bluff unimaginative English sense of course cut in. When each of two people say they must have the whole, why not cut it in half? They would neither of them look at such a suggestion. Nothing could have been more amicable in tone or more desperately fruitless in result. "Aren't they a remarkable people," Asquith said, "and the folly of thinking that we can ever understand, let alone govern them." Now after the conference, Asquith made a further concession, saying if county option was agreed, he was prepared to allow continued exclusion after six years of significant concession. The Home Rule Bill became law on the 15th of September, 1914, six weeks after the First World War had begun. But its operation was to be suspended until the end of the war. And Asquith promised he would reintroduce an amending bill in the next parliamentary session before home rule came into effect, so that it could be modified with general consent, and Ulster, however defined, could be excluded. He insisted it would be absolutely unthinkable amidst this great patriotic spirit of union to use force, any kind of force, for what you call a coercion of Ulster. But what was to count as Ulster was still not defined. Now, many historians believe that Britain was near to civil war in 1914 over Ulster. And in my book I explain why I do not share that view. There was certainly a threat of armed revolt from Ulster, but Ulster posed a threat of civil war only if she could command support from this side of the Irish Sea. And by 1914, that was becoming doubtful. Conservatives were being increasingly worried as to the international implications of the Ulster conflict and fearful that enemy powers might take advantage of it. The conservatives would not have pressed their Ulster policy were it of damage of the unity of the country in the face of a hostile Germany. They were aware that precipitated action would lose the support of public opinion in Britain. But in any case, what would Ulster be rebelling against? By August, 1914, her right to exclusion had been accepted by liberals and also, though unwillingly, by nationalists. Ulster's important concession that there would be exclusion on the basis of county option without time limit gave the Unionists much of what they were fighting for. There was admittedly no agreement on the area to be excluded, but as Lloyd George was later to put it, men would die for the empire, but not for Tyrone and Fermanagh. There would no doubt have been riots and fighting in Ulster and perhaps elsewhere in Ireland, and the borders of the excluded area might well have been eventually determined by force, but the fighting would probably not have spread to this side of the Irish Sea. The Ulster Unionist, to be successful, would've needed wide support outside Ireland. And the public on this side of the Irish Sea would've asked itself why there should be a battle for something that had already been in principle conceded. Unionists outside Ireland would not have supported armed rebellion against an act of parliament, which was giving Ulster much of what it sought, and the public would not have supported either. It was therefore not clear who would fight who in a civil war in Britain, nor what they would be fighting about. Liberals and conservatives were in fact much closer in Irish matters than others were prepared to admit. At the outbreak of war, home rule, on the basis of partition, appeared a fait accompli. And perhaps a Dublin parliament, which would follow as Redmond hoped, conciliatory and consensual policies would not in the end have appeared as dangerous to the Protestant population of Ulster as had been believed, in which case Ireland could have been reunited just as Canada and Australia and South Africa had been reunited after initially being partitioned. Carson, the Unionist leader, certainly hoped this would prove the case. He was, as I've said, an Irish Unionist who hoped to avoid home rule entirely. He saw home rule as a second best, but partition as a third best. And he hoped that home rule could, with conciliation on both sides, be a prelude to the restoration of Irish unity. So in 1914, home rule seemed almost to have answered the Irish question. When war broke out, Redmond, the nationalist leader declared the government could take all British troops out of Ireland. Nationalists would themselves defend Ireland, joining with Ulstermen to do so. Unionists cheered in parliament and waved their order papers. On 18th of September, 1914, the day on which parliament was prorogued, the labor MP Will Crooks asked MPs to sing "God Save the King." The nationalists joined in, and Crooks cried out, "God save Ireland," to which Redmond replied, "And God save England too." At Woodenbridge, County Wicklow, on the 21st of September, Redmond said, "This war is undertaken in defense of the highest principles of religion, morality, and right." And on the 15th of September, when the Commons was debating the home rule and suspensory bills, he declared, "In this war, I say for the first time, certainly for over a hundred years, I feel that Ireland's interests are precisely the same as yours. She feels and will feel that the British democracy has kept faith with her. She knows this is a just war. She has moved in a very special way by the fact this war is undertaken in the defense of small nations and oppressed peoples." He was thinking, of course, of Belgium and Serbia. Now the promise of home rule then did much, for a short time at least, to mollify historically embittered Anglo Irish relations. And whether home rule in the absence of the war would've proved a final settlement of the Irish question is, of course, impossible to know. It might well have stimulated an Irish demand for dominion status, independence within the Commonwealth, as was eventually to be achieved, but after much fighting in the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921. Without the war, there might have been a peaceful evolution to this status rather than the conflict that were to ensue, the Easter Rising of 1916, the Anglo Irish Gorilla War, the Black and Tans, and the Irish Civil War. Britain seemed to have accepted that in future, Ireland would be governed by consent, not by force. And the Irish government had recognized partition in international law since 1922, but as a regrettable necessity. Though partition was not to be fully and formally accepted by Irish nationalists until the Belfast or Good Friday Agreement of 1998, in which both Ireland and Britain accepted that Irish unity could only be achieved when a majority in Northern Ireland consented to it. Irish voters agreed in a referendum to amend Articles 2 and 3 of the Irish Constitution, which had laid claim to the whole island of Ireland. And it may be argued that the Belfast or Good Friday Agreement needed a retrospective mandate for partition and retrospective legitimation of the solution so torturously reached by 1914, a solution which recognized, as far as was possible, the right of self-determination of both nationalists and Unionists. But the war changed everything. And after the war, home rule was to be implemented, ironically only in the six counties of Northern Ireland, which would in fact have preferred continued rule from Westminster. But home rule was no longer acceptable to nationalist opinion. By 1918, the Irish Parliamentary Party had been electorally obliterated by Sinn Fein, which sought independence. And Ireland outside the six counties moved to independence in 1921 after the gorilla war, and then in 1949 left the Commonwealth, even though the Commonwealth by then would not have threatened Ireland's status as a republic, nor the role of her head of state. And Ireland together with Burma and Myanmar, are the only countries once ruled by Britain, which are not now in the commonwealth. And relations between Britain and Ireland became more distant. Ireland supported Britain's war effort in 1914, but not in 1939 when she remained neutral. And after the 1914-18 War, the Irish problem, which appeared to have been solved, reappeared. In Churchill's graphic words from his book on the war called "The World Crisis," "Then came the Great War. Every institution almost in the world was strained. Great empires have been overturned. The whole map of Europe has been changed. The mode of thought of men, the whole outlook on affairs, the grouping of parties all have encountered violent and tremendous changes in the deluge of the world. But as the deluge subsides and waters fall, we see the dreary steeples of Fermanagh and Tyrone emerging once again. (audience laughs) The integrity of their quarrel is one of the few institutions that have been unaltered in the cataclysm which has swept the world." Though it wasn't unaltered, it was, I think, strengthened. Ireland settled down after a brutal civil war to become a parliamentary democracy. Northern Ireland emerged as a statelet comprising six counties. Until 1972, it was run by the Unionists, but not in the spirit of conciliation as Carson had hoped. Instead, there was gross discrimination against Catholics, particularly in housing and employment. And this led in the 1960s to the growth of a Civil Rights Movement, and then to the upsurge of terrorism by the provisional IRA, which sought to secure Irish unity by violent means. But in 1998, the British and Irish governments negotiated the Belfast or Good Friday Agreement, a huge step forward. It was accepted by both governments that Irish unity could only be achieved by consent. In the absence of such consent, it was agreed that in Northern Ireland, the nationalist minority, as well as the Unionist majority would enjoy a guaranteed place in governing Ulster so that discrimination against the minority would end. Now, in recent years, pressures for Irish unity have increased for two reasons. The first is Brexit, the second is demographic change. Now, Brexit has made Irish unity appear more plausible because in the Brexit referendum of 2016, Northern Ireland proved more favorable to Britain's continued membership than any part of the United Kingdom, except Scotland. 56% in Northern Ireland voted to remain and 44% to leave. So the majority in Northern Ireland could argue that Northern Ireland was being extruded from the EU against its will. So in Northern Ireland, as in Scotland, the Brexit referendum seemed to offer encouragement to nationalists. There was clearly a large majority on the island of Ireland for EU membership, since Ireland herself remained an enthusiastic member of the EU. And Northern Ireland would find it easier than Scotland to rejoin the EU, since if Irish unity came about, she would be joining with an existing member state, and unlike Scotland, would not have to renegotiate her membership. Northern Ireland's position would be analogous to that of East Germany, which also became automatically part of the European Union when in 1990 she joined with West Germany. So Northern Ireland is unique in the United Kingdom because it's the only part of the United Kingdom that could rejoin the European Union automatically without needing to renegotiate entry. Now, the Ireland and Northern Ireland protocol, which is part of the EU withdrawal agreement between Britain and the EU, negotiated by Boris Johnson in 2020, provides further encouragement to nationalists because under its provisions, Northern Ireland remains in the EU Internal Market and also in effect in the EU Customs Union. So the island of Ireland becomes a single economic unit. Ties with the rest of the United Kingdom are loosened since there is a regulatory and customs border in the Irish Sea. Now, most Unionists in Northern Ireland reject the protocol, but nationalists can argue that the economic unity of Ireland should be accompanied by political unity. Now, after the Brexit referendum, one Irish commentator went so far as to suggest that, "for the first time in my life, the prospect of a united Ireland is not only credible, but inevitable." Polls in Ireland show a majority for unity, and Unionists need no longer fear that it would mean rule by Rome, since following the exposure of sexual abuse scandals in Ireland by the Catholic clergy, the position of the church has been gravely weakened. But according to a poll in the "Irish Independence" in April, 2011, sorry, 2021, I beg a pardon, the majority favoring unity in the Republic was reduced to 46% were to involve an increase in taxes, and it falls to 13% where Ireland to take on the subsidy by which the United Kingdom supports Northern Ireland. And the British would clearly not continue that subsidy. As Sir Edward Carson argued in the pre-1914 debates, divorce is not generally accompanied by wedding presence. (audience laughs) And it would be a mistake to believe that all of the 56% in Northern Ireland who voted to remain in the Brexit referendum were also supporters of Irish unity. It is, in particular, highly unlikely that the 34% of self-designated Unionists who voted to remain were also voting to join with the rest of Ireland. But there is a second factor favoring Irish unity, the facts of demographic change, which have led for the first time to a Catholic majority in Northern Ireland. Protestants had already lost their cultural and electoral dominance. Unionists no longer have a majority either amongst Northern Ireland MPs at Westminster, or in the Northern Ireland assembly where Sinn Fein is the largest party, as indeed it is in Ireland. And according to the 2021 census, the Protestants are no longer in a demographic majority either, 45.7% of the resident population in Northern Ireland, the Catholics or brought up as Catholics, compared to 43.8% as Protestants. Catholics now outnumber Protestants in an entity designed to secure a permanent Protestant majority. So unity could be brought about through the facts of demography. But we must be careful in interpreting these figures, for the Catholic population of Northern Ireland is by no means unanimous in its desire for unity. And the percentage of votes for the two main nationalist parties, Sinn Fein and the Social Democratic and Labour Party has remained strikingly stable, 40% in the 1998 assembly election and slightly less, 38% in 2022. Sinn Fein's success has been largely due to switches from the other main Nationalist Party, the Social Democratic and Labour Party, rather than conversions from outside the nationalist camp. The Unionist vote by contrast is split between the DUP, the Ulster Unionist Party and traditional Unionist voice, while some Unionists vote for the Alliance Party, which is neutral on the border. But perhaps more important than that, the census figures probably mask the growth of secularization in both Protestant and Catholic communities. Northern Ireland's constitutional future is more likely to be determined, not by Sinn Fein or the Democratic Unionist Party, but by those in the secularized middle ground. And perhaps it is fair to say that neither nationalists, nor Unionists have yet made a convincing case to that middle ground for the option they favor. But even if demographic change were to bring about Irish unity, it would be dangerous without strong Unionists consent, since it would otherwise leave a large disaffected and possibly violent Unionist minority in the Republic. It is dangerous to assume that Unionists, even in the minority, would accommodate themselves peacefully to a united Ireland, especially an Ireland which Sinn Fein could come to power, as it has in the north. And in the past, both British governments and Irish nationalists have underestimated Unionists intransigence, the resistance to home rule before 1914, the resistance to the Sunningdale Agreement after 1973, which provided for power sharing between the two communities in Northern Ireland and resistance currently to the protocol which caused rioting in Ulster in 2021, rioting which ended only out of respect when the Duke of Edinburgh died. In 1993, the then Taoiseach Albert Reynolds declared that stability and wellbeing will not be found under any political system which is refused allegiance or rejected by a significant minority of those governed by it. And that was true of Northern Ireland in the years of Unionist dominance. It could also be true of a united Ireland, which contained the largest affected Unionist minority, and perhaps calls for Irish unity undermine the prospects for reconciliation between the two communities in Northern Ireland, a reconciliation which is desperately needed between communities, some of which lead very separate lives. Now the fundamental problem in Ireland has in a sense been the same since the nationalist claim was raised in the 19th century. It is that there is no way of drawing lines on the map which does not leave at least one group with a nationalist or Unionist as part of a disaffected minority in at least one of the polities so created. The problem was blurred when Britain was a member of the EU, since the border in Ireland was becoming of less importance. But Brexit has reinstated the importance of that border and reemphasized the conflict between nationalist and Unionist identities. What then is the answer? After 1918, it was clear the answer could not be found in forcing Irish nationalists to remain within a polity that they rejected. But the Belfast or Good Friday Agreement shows that complete separation is not the answer either, and that the Northern Ireland problem can only be resolved through closer relationships between Britain and Ireland. In the 19th century, the Irish nationalist Henry Grattan accepted that total separation of Ireland was not the answer, declaring, "The channel forbids union. The ocean forbids separation." The Belfast or Good Friday Agreement constituted recognition by both Britain and Ireland that the manifold links between the two countries could not be contained within a framework which would make them as foreign to each other as, for example, Chile and Nigeria. In the 19th century, Gladstone, the great liberal prime minister also appreciated that neither total separation, nor partition could have themselves resolved the Irish problem. Instead, a permanent solution would require both the recognition of separate national identities, but also their transcendence in a wider framework through institutions which while expressing separate identities, also provided for expression of the ultimate interconnection between all the peoples living in these islands. That permanent solution has still to be achieved. Thank you. (audience applauds) - [Spectator 1] Given the population changes in Northern Ireland, is a referendum on independence now inevitable? And if so, when might it happen? - Well, thank you. As I said, I don't think it is inevitable. I don't think anything's inevitable. I think someone once said nothing's inevitable, except death and taxes. But I don't think it is inevitable. And I don't know to what extent the whole of the Catholic population favors Irish unity. There's no pressure, I think, at the moment, even from the Sinn Fein Party, for an immediate referendum on that question. I think there's no doubt that Brexit and the demographic changes have made Irish unity more likely. But I don't think it's necessarily inevitable. The nationalists say, Sinn Feins certainly say that they, that Unionist identity could be preserved in a united Ireland, but that isn't easy in a country which is a republic outside the Commonwealth because for many Unionists the monarch is very important. And I think perhaps the death of the Queen and the accession of the new king has emphasized that point amongst unions. So I think that might be a bit of a stumbling block, though I don't think it's inevitable. - Do you think as well... I mean, some of my Irish friends always feel that there's a, we don't want to inherit the troublesome minority in the north. Do you think that- - Well, in the 1970s when he was leader of the opposition, Harold Wilson, the leader of the Labour Party, said to Jack Lynch the Taoiseach that Britain was intending to withdraw her troops from Northern Ireland if there was peace. It would agreed to the secession of Northern Ireland in 15 years. And Jack Lynch was rather shocked by that and a bit frightened. I think he wasn't eager at that time. Well, Northern Ireland, of course, then was very violent indeed. - [Spectator 2] Why is the Northern Ireland protocols proving so difficult to resolve? - Well, it raises very difficult constitutional issues because Northern Ireland from some points of view, is not part of the United Kingdom in terms of the enactment of law. For instance, it has... Its VAT rules are those of the EU, so that when Rishi Sunak as chancellor passed a measure exempting Britain, reducing VAT on various energy matters, it did not apply. I think I'm right. Please correct me if I'm not. It did not apply in Northern Ireland. And Northern Ireland Internal Market is subject to the rules of the European Union on which it is not represented. So Northern Ireland has the problem of being taxed without representation. That's the issue which led to the breakup of the American colonies. And furthermore, Internal Market rules where the dispute's decided by the European Court of Justice, which is a foreign court from the point of view of the United Kingdom now because we are outside the European Union. So it does raise very serious constitutional issues for Northern Ireland. There are also arguably economic problems, though you may say Northern Ireland's got the best, best of all world by being in the EU Internal Market. But I think the Unionists consider it raises constitutional issues, which threaten their position in the United Kingdom with a regulatory and customs border in the Irish Sea. And you have to ask the other members of the EU whether the French would agree to a customs and regulatory border cutting Alsace-Lorraine off from France or the Germans cutting Bavaria off from Germany. And there's an irony in it really, because traditionally Irish nationalists were opposed to the partition of Ireland, but they're not necessarily opposed to the partition of the United Kingdom. So I think there are very, very serious issues which need somehow to be resolved. - You've emphasized several times the importance or the impact of Brexit on some of these issues, the way in which the British government at the time relied upon the tiny group of people called the DUP. That must have had a disproportionate political impact on the consequences for both Ireland and the UK. How do you feel about that? - Well, that was after Brexit occurred of course. And one of the problems that Theresa May had was that... I think the main reasons for rejection of her proposals with regard to Brexit, which would've kept Britain in the EU Customs Union, was the question of the backstop, which MPs would not accept. It seemed to give the Irish government a veto over certain matters relating to Northern Ireland. And I think without that, Theresa May's deal would've got through. Now Boris Johnson signed a different deal, which makes Northern Ireland economically in effect separate from the rest of the United Kingdom. It's ironic that a strong Unionist leader signed that agreement. Whether he read it isn't clear, but he signed it. He signed it. (audience laughs) But both John Major and Tony Blair, who were antagonists politically, spoke in Northern Ireland before the referendum and said, "If Britain leaves the EU, this will make the Irish problem more difficult to resolve." Now in a sense, Northern Ireland listened 'cause it voted strongly to remain in, but it was outvoted by the rest of the country. And Northern Ireland, Scotland, and London were the only three areas which voted to remain. But it's fair to say something not often noticed. Their turnout rates were amongst the lowest. Three of the four lowest turnout rates were in Northern Ireland, Scotland, and London. If turnout rates had been higher, the result might have been different. - [Spectator 3] Thank you so much for a fantastic overview and lecture, professor. One thing that I was going to ask was, on the subject of referendum, is that they held a referendum, I think in 1970 or 1971 about, for reunification in Northern Ireland. I was quite surprised to see that when I... - Yeah, there was a border poll. I think it was 1973. But it wasn't helpful because the minority population, the Catholic population did not vote. So it gave a huge majority for staying in the United Kingdom. But the reason for that, there was a reason for them deciding not to vote because it was obvious there was a majority staying in the United Kingdom because that, that was the basis on which Northern Ireland had been created, that it had a Protestant majority. But now, as I say, it doesn't have a Protestant majority. That's changed. So you may argue that basis has been undermined. But there certainly was a border poll, the first local referendum. That in a way did prove an important precedent because it proved a precedent for our first European referendum, which was in 1975, which yielded a two-one majority of staying in the European community. But without the '73 border pole, there might not have been as much pressure in the rest of the country for a referendum on the Common Market, as the European Union then was. But the maligned fate which infects the Irish problem, I'd say particularly in 1914 when I think it was very near to a settlement... And also you could argue from this point of view, Brexit is a maligned fate that I think the lines between being British and Irish were becoming very blurred by the European Union. And just as it had achieved a reconciliation originally between France and Germany, it might have helped do that between Northern Ireland and the rest of Ireland. But Brexit, I mean, there maybe other good reasons for Brexit, I'm not arguing against that. But Brexit did make life more difficult, I think, on the island of Ireland. - Thank you very much indeed. I think we should invite you back in a hundred years to have another go to answering the question. And in the meantime, may I invite you to thank Professor Bogdanor once more for a wonderful lecture. - Thank you, thank you. (audience applauds)