Towards Changes in the Republic
"Towards Changes in the Republic"
This document illustrates the views of one thoughtful moderate nationalist on Northern Ireland and reunification in 1972, a time when the constitutional future of Northern Ireland was uncertain following the suspension of the Northern Ireland parliament and the introduction of direct rule from London. Garret FitzGerald was very conscious of the need for legislative change in the Republic of Ireland in order to accommodate the views of Ulster Protestants. In March 1973 FitzGerald became minister for external affairs, a portfolio that included Northern Ireland.
Throughout most of the past half-century the issue of Irish reunification was debated in somewhat simplistic terms. Because to both sides it appeared at first a temporary arrangement (although of course this was not publicly admitted by leaders of the majority in the North), relatively little thought was given to how it could be brought to an end, or even as to how the divergence between the two parts of Ireland could be prevented from widening. Northern Unionists were content with a "no surrender" attitude, which some of them in their hearts did not take too seriously, and the Northern minority and the bulk of the people in the rest of the country were equally content to assert a claim to unity without pursuing very far the question of how this ambition might be realised. As the years passed the attitude of many supporters of Irish reunification imperceptibly and unconsciously changed from a presumption that partition was temporary and would be brought to an early end, to an equally unconscious acceptance of it as an indefinitely continuing feature on the Irish landscape, but this underlying change of private attitudes brought no change in public policies. From time to time politicians in the Republic were moved to public statements of abhorrence of the political division of the island and at certain periods this sporadic competition in oratory developed into a campaign against partition; most notably, perhaps, in the period 1948–1949, when Mr. de Valera took advantage of a spell in opposition after sixteen years of government to launch a worldwide campaign on the subject. This campaign continued into the early 1950s, aided by a fund collected, rather tactlessly from the point of view of Northern Unionist sentiment, at the gates of Catholic churches, and punctuated by the declaration of the Republic in 1949, and by the British guarantee in the consequential Ireland Act, 1949, of the Northern Ireland parliament's right to decide the reunification issue.
The IRA border raid campaign of the years from 1956 onwards introduced a new element into the controversy, which, however, had no lasting effects, except on Northern Unionist attitudes. By the early 1960s the whole question seemed to be back where it had started, except that opinion had become accustomed to the fact of partition, and pessimistic about prospects for its disappearance in the forseeable future.
Within Northern Ireland these decades saw many fluctuations in the attitude of the minority, ranging from abstentionism to limited participation in the governmental system, and even, at certain periods, an abdication by the constitutional Nationalist Party of its role in the face of Republican determination to contest seats at elections. (Fearing that to put forward candidates as it had done for decades previously would "split the vote" and let the seats concerned go to the Unionists, the Nationalists temporarily ceded the ground to abstentionist Republicans, possibly believing that this threat to their political control of the minority would go away if left to blow itself out, as in fact eventually happened.)
The 1960s saw the emergence of a new attitude amongst the Northern minority, however. In the aftermath of the border raids and the temporary takeover of parliamentary representation by abstentionist Republicans, the mood of the minority switched back towards acceptance of a measure of involvement with the system; a willingness to try co-operation. One of the earliest protagonists of this policy was Mr. G. B. Newe, later, towards the end of 1971, to be appointed a member of the Northern Ireland Cabinet in a belated effort by Mr. Brian Faulkner to lend credibility to his government. But it received a measure of support as time went on from Nationalist politicians also, amongst them Mr. Paddy Gormley, MP, brother of Mr. Tom Gormely, who in early 1972, with two Unionist MPs, joined the Alliance Party.
It is against this background that one must see the analysis of minority attitudes in the Rose Survey, carried out in 1968. . . . This survey was undertaken just at the end of this "honeymoon" period, which had also been marked by the exchange of visits at prime minister level initiated by Mr. Seán Lemass in 1965.
But it is also against this background that one must see the emergence of the civil rights movement. The tactical approach of this movement reflected the shift in minority attitudes during the 1960s towards an attempt to work the system by concentrating on a political evolution within Northern Ireland as a preliminary to, and indeed a condition precedent of, any move towards seeking reunification by consent. Of course the civil rights movement did not accept the rather formless drift towards co-operation that had marked the years before 1968; it adopted a positive policy of non-violent demonstration in pursuit of its aims, conscious, no doubt, of the strong possibility that such a show of independence and self-confidence by those who had suffered from the system of government in Northern Ireland since 1920 would be likely to arouse opposition and even physical resistance by supporters of the regime.
But although its tactics were aggressive rather than passive, its strategy was similar to that which had emerged more or less haphazardly amongst the minority during the immediately preceding years: tackle the internal problems of Northern Ireland in the first instance, and leave the issue of reunification on one side for the time being, to be settled later by agreement in the light of the new and, hopefully, saner situation that would emerge following the battle for reforms.
Despite the fact that the conservatism of most Northern Protestants, and their suspicion of Republican influences in the civil rights movement, prevented that movement from mobilising significant support from the Protestant community (although many Protestants did, of course, support the reforms when they were introduced), this development nevertheless changed the character of the Northern problem. Because the civil rights movement was content to leave the partition issue to be decided at a later stage, in a, hopefully, different atmosphere created by reforms, its reform programme was much more difficult to resist than any previous opposition movement to the Northern government. The Northern government might convince a high proportion of its own supporters that the civil rights movement was, despite its new policies, only anti-partitionism under another guise; it could not so easily persuade opinion outside Northern Ireland of this thesis. Moreover because civil rights had become a fashionable issue in other countries during the 1960s, and because the campaign—and any attempt to repress it—was transmitted with all the instantaneity and impact of television, the effect of the civil rights movement on opinion outside Northern Ireland was greater than, perhaps, even its organisers had ever conceived possible. Had it been merely another stage in a long-drawn out campaign against partition, it is doubtful whether, even with the aid of television, it could have had the same effect on opinion in Britain and elsewhere. The reaction to this campaign culminated in the violence of August 1969, the intervention of the British army to prevent a pogrom, and the granting of the reforms—subject to a certain amount of subsequent delay and whittling down, referred to earlier. In retrospect one is forced to wonder whether the civil rights movement, and the politicians associated with it who later formed the Social Democratic and Labour Party, were prepared for the measure of success they achieved, and for the speed with which it was secured. The logical corollary of the anti-discrimination reform programme would have been a demand for a right on the part of the minority to participate in government, yet this demand was not made until much later, long after the minority in Belfast and Derry had come into conflict with the British army.
The extent to which the new approach—concentrating on internal changes within Northern Ireland and leaving the partition issue for later settlement—had taken deep root amongst the minority became evident during the period from August 1969 until August 1971, when internment was introduced. Throughout this period the partition issue remained in the background, despite the increasing polarisation between Protestants and Catholics. It was only after the introduction of internment that the emphasis of minority attitudes began to switch back from internal charges within North to national reunification as an immediate aim. This reversal of emphasis in the autumn of 1971 was encouraged by the Wilson proposals, which envisaged an agreement on ultimate reunification, followed by a fifteen-year transitional period. It was given further impetus by the radio and newspaper interviews with Rev. Ian Paisley towards the end of 1971, when his proposals for constitutional change in the Republic, and deliberate side-stepping of questions about his attitude to reunification if these changes were effected, hinted at a possible change of attitude on this issue.
By the beginning of 1972 there was, moreover, evidence of similar stirrings in non-Paisleyite Northern Protestant opinion. The sense of insecurity of the Northern majority, and their fear that even if this crisis were overcome, the whole cycle of violence could start again in the future, seemed to be beginning to lead some more thoughtful members of the Protestant community to ask themselves whether there might not be something to be gained by examining the question of the kind of Ireland that might emerge if the two parts of the country were eventually to be reunited. Speeches by Richard Ferguson, a former Unionist MP, from December 1971 onwards in which he addressed himself to the need to consider the possibility of a new non-sectarian united Ireland, underlined this new mood.
Thus, the failure to find a solution within the context of Northern Ireland based on the willingness of the minority in the late 1960s to leave the reunification issue on one side for the time being and to concentrate rather on internal reforms, had created by the start of 1972 a situation in which the whole question of a united Ireland had again become a live issue. Now, however, reunification seemed to have rather more prospect of realisation within a reasonable period that had seemed to exist at any time during the first forty years of the existence of Northern Ireland, when a sporadic campaign was being waged against partition. Historians will, no doubt, debate the relative contributions to this new situation of a multiplicity of factors at work during the period from 1969 onwards, and especially in the closing months of 1971. These factors will probably include the following:
- The policy vacuum on the side of the minority after the concession of the reform programme in August and October, 1969, which, in retrospect, can be seen to have inhibited change in the political structure of the North during this period.
- The intransigence of the Unionist government and party when the proposals for minority participation in government in Northern Ireland emerged during the course of 1971.
- The British government's internment decision and that government's failure, influenced, no doubt, by repeated army promises of imminent victory over the IRA, to take any initiative in the closing months of 1971 to recover the ground thus lost.
- The brutality associated with internment, and the failure of the British army authorities to prevent some of its units from behaving in a manner that alienated the goodwill of even the most moderate members of the minority.
- The disturbing effect on Northern Protestant opinion of the IRA campaign in the period after internment, and the growing belief amongst Protestants in Northern Ireland that the British government, politicians and people neither understood their situation nor cared enough about it to sustain a prolonged campaign.
- The reintroduction of the reunification issue into the sphere of practical politics by the Harold Wilson initiative of late 1971.
- The emergence in the Republic of a movement favouring a more liberal and pluralist society, which for the first time offered Protestants some hope that a united Ireland would not necessarily be simply an enlarged version of what they had always seen as a Republic dominated by Roman Catholic teaching and influence.
All of these factors, and perhaps others besides that may not be evident to an observer writing early in 1972, myopically close to the events in question, no doubt played their part, for nothing less than a complex combination of many causes could account for the emergence of a willingness on the part even of a thinking minority of Northern Protestants to start giving serious consideration to a solution involving eventual reunification in some form.
The ultimate significance of this shift in opinion is unknowable in early 1972; but enough has happened to make it worth considering seriously ways in which it might prove possible to overcome the obstacles to reunification that have been strengthened in the past half-century, reinforcing the basic inter-community hostility that initially led to partition. The shape of an eventual solution, rather than the practical path towards its negotiation, will be the theme of the concluding pages of this book. How and whether it might be possible to secure the consent, or at any rate, acquiescence, of the Northern majority to a peaceful evolution towards national unity remains an uncertain question—and reunification achieved other than peacefully would ensure lasting discord affecting the whole of Ireland, rather than anything that could properly be called national unity. All that can be said is that the prospect of reunification without violence had by the start of 1972 emerged as a possibility strong enough to warrant practical consideration and to call for serious study.
First of all, some "non-starter" solutions should, perhaps, be ruled out. Thus the proposal sometimes canvassed in Britain, and occasionally even in Ireland, for a re-partitioning of Northern Ireland should be excluded. The politico-religious geography of Northern Ireland is much too complex to make any such solution worth considering. While there is a rather higher proportion of Catholics in the West and South of Northern Ireland, than in the North and East of the area, there are, nevertheless, about 200,000 Catholics in the North-East corner of Northern Ireland—Antrim, North Down, Belfast and North Armagh. Thus even if the boundary were re-drawn to include only these parts of Northern Ireland in which there is an overwhelming Protestant majority, less than 10% of the land area of Ireland, there would remain within this enclave 200,000 Catholic hostages—well over half of them in Belfast itself. This problem could no doubt be overcome by a transfer of populations, but the hardship this would entail would be immense and the resultant all-Protestant enclave would by the standards of modern European civilisation be a political monstrosity. This kind of solution assumes that the differences between Protestants and Catholics are of a permanently irreconcilable character; that these two communities of Ulster people are so inherently different and mutually hostile that it is hopeless to conceive of their ever living together in peace. Even the events of the years from 1969 to 1972 do not warrant such a deeply pessimistic conclusion.
Another proposal for a boundary change—the inclusion within Northern Ireland of the three Ulster counties now in the Republic—has been put forward by the provisional Sinn Féin organisation as a means of persuading Unionists to accept reunification. This solution would, however, be highly unlikely to prove acceptable to the majority of people in the three Ulster counties in the Republic, and it is, of course, specifically designed to threaten the position of the Protestant community within the area of Northern Ireland. Protestants who might accept participation in a United Ireland if they retained their own provincial autonomy within the present territory of Northern Ireland, where they have a clear domestic majority, would not be attracted by a proposal which with the faster growth of the Catholic population of these areas, would threaten at a fairly early date their submergence as a minority in an over-whelmingly Catholic Ireland. Moreover, as the provisional Sinn Féin proposal envisages four provincial parliaments within a federal Ireland, the Ulster province, within which the Protestants would have a tenuous and impermanent majority, would at the level of the federal institutions find itself in a minority of one-in-four—whereas if the existing Northern Ireland state federated with the Republic, the balance in population terms would be only two-to-one against Northern Ireland, and Northern Ireland might reasonably hope within such a twin-state system to be accorded equal representation at, say, the level of the Upper House, as is accorded in certain other federations (e.g., the United States of America) where the lower house of parliament is constituted on the one-man-one-vote principle.
Thus there seems to be nothing to be gained by playing around with the existing boundary; for good or ill, it exists, and if a federal system is to be created, it is more likely that agreement can be reached on the basis that this boundary would be let stand, than on a basis that involved a radical change in it.
The concept of a federation of the two existing Irish political entities has its difficulties, of course. There appears to be a general sentiment in the Republic in favour of such a solution, however—at any rate, no voices have been raised to protest that a united Ireland must be a unitary state, and most discussion has either explicitly or implicitly been based on the concept of an autonomous Northern Ireland region within a unified but not unitary 32-county Irish state.
This general acceptance of the concept of an autonomous Northern Ireland region depends, however, upon agreement on a reconstitution of the system of government within that region along lines that would be acceptable to the minority and would guarantee human rights, viz. on the pattern suggested in the immediately preceding chapter. This would leave the following questions to be settled:
- The nature of the special relationship, if any, that would exist between a united Ireland and Great Britain.
- The guarantees that the Northern Protestant community would have for their rights within a united Ireland.
- The kind of constitution required for a United Ireland.
- The steps to be taken to ensure that the ending of Northern Ireland's present relationship with the United Kingdom, and its participation in a United Ireland, would not adversely affect agricultural incomes, employment in industries such as shipbuilding, social welfare benefits, or living standards generally.
- The changes that would, in the meantime, be required within the Republic to persuade Northern Protestants that an association with the Republic within an Irish federal state could be acceptable.
The last of these points will be considered first, in the concluding pages of this chapter, leaving the other matters over to a final chapter, for the creation of sufficient goodwill within the Northern Ireland Protestant community to enable a constructive debate to start on participation by the North in a federal Irish state will certainly require concrete evidence on the part of the Republic of a willingness to establish conditions within its own territory that Northern Protestant opinion would find broadly acceptable.
A clear distinction must be made here between more immediate changes required within the Republic to create a favourable atmosphere for future discussions, and the eventual changes in the present constitution of the Republic that would be required to make it acceptable as the constitution of a federal Irish state. While some matters will come up for consideration under both headings, this distinction is an important one, which emerged clearly towards the end of 1971, in the limited public debate that surrounded the decision to establish an all-party committee in the Republic to discuss Northern Ireland policy and possible relevant constitutional changes.
The sensitivities of Northern Protestant opinion with respect to laws and practices in the Republic have been outlined earlier. At this stage the only issue is what changes are necessary to prepare the way for constructive discussions on eventual reunification. The central problem here is the influence of the Catholic Church in the Republic on social and legal issues within the political forum. This is only minimally a matter of constitutional and legal provisions: much more important to the Northern Protestant is the evidence of indirect influence wielded by the authorities of the Catholic Church, either in preventing laws being enacted, or in securing the administration of laws in a manner favourable to what its authorities regard as the interests of the Catholic religion.
The formal constitutional and legal changes called for are, indeed, relatively few. The provisions of Articles 44.1.2—"The State recognises the special position of the Holy Catholic Apostolic and Roman Church as the guardian of the faith professed by the great majority of the citizens"—would clearly have to be repealed, but as Cardinal Conway has said that he would not shed a tear at its deletion from the constitution, and as only one member of the Dáil—a rural Labour Deputy—has criticized its proposed repeal, this creates no problem.
Secondly, it would be desirable as an indication of goodwill towards the Northern Ireland legal position on divorce, to delete also the provision of Article 41.3.2 of the constitution—which forbids the enactment of any law granting a dissolution of marriage. The making of such a constitutional change might suffice to meet Northern Protestant opinions on this matter, without going beyond this to introduce actual divorce legislation in the Republic, for divorce is a matter of jurisdiction and, as is evident from the legal position with respect to divorce in England and Wales and in Scotland, different divorce laws can exist within a non-federal state, and all the more so within a federal state, as Ireland on the hypothesis might in time become.
There will be those who argue that divorce is a human right, and that failure by the Republic to make provision for this "right" would make more difficult reunification on a federal basis, even if Northern Ireland could retain its own divorce law, and power to modify this law in future. But the concept of divorce as an absolute human rights is an arguable one, if for no other reason than because the divorce laws of every state are different, allowing the dissolution of marriage for widely differing reasons, and with widely different conditions attached. A human right must surely be something more precise than a vague provision of this kind, differently interpreted from state to state. Moreover, although the question of divorce is frequently raised in connection with the question of reunification, divorce is in fact disapproved of in varying degrees by all the Protestant churches in Ireland, and is frowned on by a high proportion, possibly a substantial majority, of their members; although, of course, this does not mean that they would wish their view to have the force of law. The introduction of divorce in Northern Ireland is of relatively recent origin; apart from the traditional system of divorce by act of parliament, which applied to the whole of Ireland up to and after the division of the country and the establishment of the Irish Free State, it was only in 1939 that divorce through the courts was introduced in Northern Ireland. In these circumstances it is possible that the genuine feelings of Northern Ireland people on this matter would be met if pending reunification a change in the Republic's constitution were effected that made it clear that reunion would not interfere with Northern Ireland's freedom of action in relation to divorce laws, although some will feel that Republic should go further in this matter.
Abortion, an issue sometimes raised by British commentators, and rather oddly included in Mr. Wilson's late 1971 proposals for a solution to the Irish problem, is not an issue with the bulk of Northern Protestant opinion, although there is some sensitivity about differences in obstetrical practice between Catholic and Protestant or public authority hospitals. Easier abortion has not hitherto been a significant issue within Northern Ireland, and accordingly should not create a serious problem in relation to proposals for reunification.
The Republic's laws on censorship and contraception are highly contentious issues with Northern Protestant opinion. Moreover, since unlike divorce, what is involved here is the movement of goods rather than legal jurisdiction, and as, presumably, in a united federal Ireland it would be proposed to eliminate customs controls between the two parts of the country, some solution must in any event be found to divergences in practice in these matters when a negotiated settlement is sought. It seems sensible, therefore, to initiate changes in the Republic in advance of such a settlement, as part of a programme designed to show Northern Protestant opinion that the will to reunification on an acceptable basis is genuine.
The scale of minority support in the Republic for changes in the law on contraception, demonstrated by a public opinion poll in April 1971, which posed the issue in the context of the Republic alone, without reference to the question of reunification, suggests that if the issue were re-posed as part of a "package" designed to create a favourable climate for reunification, it would have the assent of a majority; especially if safeguards and limitations on free sale, not adverted to in the poll, were spelt out.
In the case of obscene literature the contentious issue is the method of control rather than any disagreement on the need for some form of control. Perhaps because the censorship system of the Republic has applied not only to obscene printed matter but also to works "advocating" artificial methods of birth control, thus enforcing what Protestants regard as Catholic morality on this issue, it has got a bad name in Northern Ireland. It may also be that mere fact that the system of control in the Republic is different from that in the North, and is called "censorship," has helped to make it a bone of contention.
The removal of the control over books advocating artificial forms of birth control would go some way to meet Northern objections, but it may be worth considering whether the Republic's pre-censorship system is worth maintaining, in view of its controversial character, now that it is in practice virtually limited in applications to books which, by reasonable standards—such as may be shared by many Protestants in Northern Ireland—could be regarded as pornographic and thus amenable to a normal legal process. Such a process could be implemented in accordance with regional norms, but subject to some overall supervision to prevent local outbursts of excessive illiberalism from interfering with the sale of works which by the general standards of the time in Ireland, or in the relevant part of Ireland, would not be regarded as obscene.
In other words the real issue is not now so much a divergence of view between North and South as to what kind of books should be banned—local divergences of this kind can and do exist within the legal systems of unitary states such as Great Britain—but rather the method of control. A national precensorship system is objectionable in principle to many Northern Protestants, for reasons that are not necessarily entirely logical, and raises issues as between North and South which a normal police-type control on a regional or local basis would not raise. As this latter type of control could well yield similar results in the Republic to those at present achieved through pre-censorship a reversion to this latter system, employed in the independent Irish state during its early years, could well provide a solution to this problem—if accompanied by provisions to eliminate the ban on books advocating certain methods of birth control. In considering such an arrangement it must be borne in mind that the attitudes of many Northern Protestants to pornography is as close to that of Irish Catholics as to that of British public opinion, so that the problem of divergence of standards in this matter is probably less acute than the controversy over the method of censorship might suggest.
It is in the educational sphere, however, that the influence of the Roman Catholic Church is seen by Northern Protestants as most pervasive. At the same time the educational systems of the two parts of Ireland, despite the differences that have grown up between them in the past half-century, retain basic similarities; both have post-primary public schools operating in parallel with denominational post-primary schools; and in both areas primary education is denominational. In Northern Ireland, however, the acceptance by the Roman Catholic hierarchy of the principle that one-third of the members of the management boards of Catholic post-primary schools in receipt of 80% capital grants should be representatives of the relevant local educational authority to be nominated by the minister for education, has created a situation very different from that in the Republic.
But although Protestant fears of Roman Catholic ecclesiastical influence in education are real and run very deep, the concern of the Church of Ireland in particular, especially in the Republic, to retain its own denominational schools at both primary and post-primary level has meant that there has been relatively little pressure for a diminution of the denominational element in education. In these circumstances, it is not easy to see what precise changes in the educational system in the Republic could be initiated, or are required, in order to offer re-assurance to Protestant opinion in Northern Ireland.
The other important area where a change in the present arrangements in the Republic would be regarded as an earnest of the sincerity of its people's wish for a reunited Ireland acceptable to the Protestants of Northern Ireland is that concerning the Irish language. To Protestants in Northern Ireland the refusal to grant school leaving certificates to those who do not pass in Irish, the Irish language requirement for entry to the Colleges of the National University of Ireland, and the Irish language requirements in relation to recruitment into and promotion within the public service of the Republic, appear discriminatory against people of their tradition, few of whom in past generations were Irish speaking. It can, of course, be argued (in this as in every other instance where changes are proposed in the Republic as an indication of willingness to meet the point of view of the majority in Northern Ireland) that the present arrangements in the Republic are without prejudice to quite different arrangements that might apply in the examination system or public service of a federal Irish state. But this will not appear convincing to Northern Protestants, even those with goodwill towards an eventual reunification of the country, for they see their co-religionists in the Republic as being adversely affected by these language requirements, and regard the provisions under which these requirements are imposed as penal in character vis-à-vis people who do not belong to the native Gaelic tradition, and as indicating an attitude of mind opposed to the kind of pluralist society that they would expect to find a united Ireland.
A change in policy in this matter, as in the others referred to above, seems desirable, therefore, if the Republic is to show itself to the Protestant people of Northern Ireland as liberal and open-minded, concerned to meet their reasonable requirements, and determined to treat the existing small Protestant minority in the Republic in a manner satisfactory to Protestants of the North. It is worth noting that the principal opposition party in the Republic, Fine Gael, is in fact committed to these reforms affecting the Irish language.
Summing up the specific steps that might usefully be taken in the Republic at this stage as an earnest wish of its people to seek a reunification of the country in terms that could be acceptable to Northern Protestants, the changes that seem to be most needed are the repeal by referendum of the constitutional provisions on the special position of the Catholic Church and divorce; amendment of the law banning the import and sale of contraceptives; a modification of the system of dealing with obscene printed matter, substituting a new version of the older system of control by prosecution for the existing censorship system and the removal of Irish language requirements in examinations and in recruitment for, and promotion within the public service.
Consideration should also be given to implementing in the Republic reforms introduced in Northern Ireland since 1969. Some of these reforms may be less necessary in the Republic than in Northern Ireland, but they nevertheless could have a useful part to play, and Northern Catholics and Protestants alike would be reassured to know that the Republic was keeping in step with Northern Ireland in this respect. The matters concerned include the appointment of a commissioner for complaints and a parliamentary commissioner for administration; the appointment also of a police authority; and steps to extend the impartial systems of public appointments in the Republic to posts not now covered, e.g. rate collections, sub-postmasters, etc. In these and other reforms the guiding principle should be the provision of absolute guarantees of fair and equal treatment for all citizens regardless of religion, or politics.
Finally, in all legislation dealing with matters that may be at issue between the two religious communities, the guiding principle should be the general welfare of all, rather than the moral consensus of the majority community. If that principle is followed then the problems hitherto created both North and South as a result of legislation influenced by the views of the predominant group in the area concerned, will be avoided in future.
Such a programme, if implemented generously, and if accompanied by an evident willingness on the part of the Catholic Church authorities and the political parties in the Republic to offer concrete re-assurance to Northern Protestants that a united Ireland would not, as they fear, be dominated by the church authorities, or by the teaching and influence of the church, would create conditions favourable to an eventual serious discussion of a programme of reunification. Some kind of declaration of intent by churchmen and politicians could make a great contribution here.
Pressures favouring a development of this kind have been the impact in the Republic of the implication by Rev. Ian Paisley in his December 1971 radio and newspaper interviews that changes in the Republic might affect the attitude of Northern Protestants towards the North-South relationship, and the proposals by Richard Ferguson, the former Unionist MP who since his resignation has joined the Alliance Party, for a new, non-sectarian Ireland, which in the spring of 1972 began to make a significant impact in the Republic. The refusal of the Fianna Fáil Party conference early in 1972 to accept a proposal to postpone constitutional reform until negotiations started for a united Ireland reflected the growing willingness of public opinion in the Republic to seek a solution in the form of a new kind of society, rather than by an attempt to impose the Republic's cultural values and Catholic ethos on Northern Ireland. Up to May 1972, however, this approach was still being resisted by the Fianna Fáil government which appeared, however, to be swimming increasingly against the tide of public opinion on this issue. Even if the all-party committee of the Dáil announced in December 1971, but not set up until May 1972, was envisaged by the government as a body that should concern itself with changes to be made as a part of an eventual negotiation, it is quite possible that its work will lead to proposals for interim changes in the Republic along the lines suggested above. Fresh pressure in favour of such changes will come from the proposal in the British initiative of March 24, 1972, to have regular plebiscites in Northern Ireland on the reunification issue.
Garret FitzGerald, Towards a New Ireland(1973), pp. 142–157. Reproduced by permission of the author.