Eire Nua: The Protestant/Unionist Community Has Nothing to Fear From Irish Unification

This is part two of a speech delivered by John-Joe McCusker at the most recent Ruairi O’Bradaigh summer school held in Roscommon last year. This is a very important and well researched piece, as Irish Republicanism continues to attempt to alleviate the concerns of the Protestant/Unionist community as regards to Irish re-unification.

I was asked to speak regarding the workings of a Consultative Assembly and how it might work.  The simple answer to that is that those assembled talk about how to effectively run the country in the absence of foreign interference.  The major difficulty is how we present ourselves to the Unionist and largely Protestant communities especially in the six counties in order to bring about such consultations.   Perhaps we should recognise some facts and fears about our neighbours.


We must look at the other side of the conflict and view all from a ‘Protestant Unionist’ perspective. They accept, for the most part, that they are the descendants of planters their right in this country was contested in many fractious and bloody occasions following their arrival.  Their right to be in Ireland which they secured has for many hundreds of years not been an issue.  They along with the alliance forces of the Holy Roman Empire and King William of Orange commanded the field at Derry, Aughrim and the Boyne.  These events are as sacred to them as Clontarf, 1798 or 1916 are to Irish Nationalists.  These battles are hailed as events where they fought for the freedom of religion.


In opposition to the efforts of the United Irishmen the Orange Order was brought into existence in 1795. The 1798 rebellion where Protestant, Catholic and Presbyterian fought side by side to expel England from our shores also had incidents which were none too restrained and where many innocent lives were lost and viewed as sectarian. The Land Wars seen many attacks on Landlords and their agents, where the agent was a Protestant man, such incidents could and would be viewed as sectarian by the Protestant community.


During the war for the Independence of our country there were cases where Protestant people were set upon because they were viewed as informers.  Many Catholic informers were shot.   Given the nature of the conflict, at the time, you could not expect Protestants not to be informers.  Many such incidents involving Catholic and Protestant were grudge killings.   Again, any adjudication especially by the Protestant community would find this, the killing of a Protestant man as blatantly sectarian.


There were people who were disappeared in the 1920s and their bodies have never been recovered. So we Irish, Protestant, Catholic and Dissenters do not have a monopoly of Angels. All in all I suppose there has been enough killing for Irishmen to establish at least a respect for the sharp end of the others’ sword.


Regarding the defence of Ireland during the Second World War the British government was concerning itself with securing north-south cooperation and if possible having the Free State abandon neutrality.  The Unionists had a great fear that de Valera would trade Irish neutrality for post war Irish Unity.


Craig was subjected to a mounting campaign of cajolement, persuasion and political pressure, such as he had not experienced since the treaty negotiations almost twenty years earlier.  His response was consistently inflexible and dilatory, reflecting his priority, the preservation of the union. Basil Brooke (Lord Brookeborough) in  support of his Prime Minister James Craig who had replied to a telegram from  MacKenzie King (Canadian Prime Minister) which urged Irish north-south co-operation in defence matters, …  stated that  prime minister Craig’s  ‘reply was ….. effective namely that we are part of the United Kingdom at war, whereas the Free State are neutral… and that the matter of defence was one for the United Kingdom government.


Notwithstanding this, as the crisis escalated, Sir Basil was concerned that his loyalty to crown and empire might come into conflict with his life-long commitment to the union.  On June 5, he recorded that he was ‘still anxious about the position with regard to Eire..(and) ….convinced that heavy pressure will be put on us to join up.  The argument being that de Valera will allow the British army to come into the south and the fleet to use southern harbours and in return he (De Valera) insists on Ulster coming in.’  (Uniting Ireland) Brooke concluded that it would be a ‘very hard nut to crack’.


­Craig allayed his fears, explaining the further efforts by the British government do induce him to discuss defence matters with Éire, writing,  ‘so long as they keep on that line (i.e.  defence) and do not discuss the constitutional position.  I think we have a good case for staying out.  But’, he added, ‘I always fear that we may be asked to sacrifice ourselves if Eire offers to cancel her neutrality and allow British troops into the ‘country’.


One Sunday in June 1940, John Brooke son of Sir Basil, recalls his father considering such a prospect.  The latter spoke of the pressures being exerted on the Northern Ireland government and stated that ‘if ‘we were faced with the choice of losing our civilisation or accepting the unification of Ireland he would find it a very difficult decision.  He regarded western civilisation as of greater worth than anything else, being absolutely convinced of the menace of Nazi Germany’.  His son concluded: ‘It was my opinion that day in those circumstances he would have to do his best to secure Irish Unity.


This broad impression is supported by a conversation which Brooke had with Frank MacDermott, a southern senator and occasional visitor to Colebrooke, who was seeking to act as an intermediary between the northern and southern ‘governments’.  He called with Sir Basil, on June 25, 1940, ‘to discuss a conference on defence’.  The latter (Sir Basil),          records: ‘I told him that the south had to give some proof of its pro-British, pro-Ulster tendencies…..namely declare war before any discussions could take place’.  McDermott adds that Sir Basil ‘admitted privately that if the south were to join the war on Britain’s side in return for post-war unification, Craig’s cabinet would be split with his own vote favouring a new relationship with the south.


On June 23, Pat Herdman, son of a northern Unionist senator and acquaintance of Brooke’s called at Colebrooke to say that Sean McEntee was ‘anxious to discuss the defence of Ireland’ with him.  In reply, Sir Basil again stated that ‘we cannot discuss anything until they declare war’ and added that he ‘could not act behind prime minister  Craig’s back and would have to inform him of anything he told me’.  Herdman presented these terms to De Valera and then raised the question of Ireland’s defence and whether ‘Eire’ would be prepared to enter the war in order to end partition.  To his amazement, the Taoiseach once more opposed any compromising of neutrality, stating that to do so would ‘split the south from top to bottom.



Herdman returned north and reported back to Brooke, who recorded his impression that De Valera was ‘afraid of his fifth column… the IRA.  Brooke immediately told Craig of ‘all these conversations’.  Brooke highlighted the strength of the position they were now in with the British government.


To what extent disingenuous soundings existed on either side of the border it is difficult to gauge.  It was mooted or intimated that the foot-dragging in the south was that De Valera was ever watchful of the 5th column in their midst, namely the IRA.  It could be construed that this offering was a political sixpence each way by de Valera on the outcome of the war.  This offering however did provide Craig with political cover which he aptly exploited.  Craig wrote, ‘my friend,  … an absolutely reliable source’ has met  with De Valera and suggested to him that ‘if he would declare himself willing to come in with Britain, I would be glad to meet him anywhere at any time over mutual civil defence. Provided no constitutional questions were touched upon.   Craig’s letter continued,


De Valera’s answer was ‘quite impossible’, as he could not ‘abrogate his position of neutrality on account of the strength of his fifth column’.  Craig thus repeating the phrase used earlier by Brooke, Certainly, Brooke had shown during this ‘moment of crisis in the death struggle’ a greater willingness to compromise and to act in the ‘national interest, than his leader or his cabinet colleagues.  Just as he had suggested in early 1916 that he would prefer home rule to civil war in Ireland, so now he had indicated that in the final analysis the defeat of the Axis powers must take priority over the preservation of the union.


Ian Paisley in defence of his democratic principles stated in 1981 to Padraig O’Malley an American based academic that he would accept a United Ireland if 51% of the people of the north voted for it. These utterances from such senior people in the Protestant community demonstrate that the Irish problem can be solved.  Indeed it may well be that the common sense of Irish unity and the slow melting of sectarian bitterness, assisted by better education and a better understanding could well be coming into play.


When Gerry Adams was seeking to have Ruairí Ó Brádaigh removed as President of Sinn Fein he used the opposition within the movement to a Federal Solution for the Irish difficulty of partition as a means to undermine Ó Brádaigh. Ó Brádaigh responded,  “Without federalism I am not interested in any leadership position”.  He informed Adams, that when he met with Unionists and Loyalists he told them that he believed so strongly in the policy that he would resign as president if Sinn Féin dropped it.  He said, “If you want a new song, you get a new singer”.


The people of Ireland Protestant, Catholic and Dissenter have all a right to live here, to prosper and respect our differences. The Monarch of England as ecclesiastic head of Protestantism is entitled to a residence in Ireland the status of such a residence may be ecclesiastical and/or ambassadorial. The English Government does not have a right to rule us and must get out and stop interfering in our affairs.  The English Government must stop the management of sectarian division in Ireland. No Nation or Union should be accepted onto the theatre of modern world politics where they define and maintain their borders by religious affiliation.


Each time we look at history we are looking to make assumptions on how the lessons of the past can serve us in the present day.  Perhaps history cannot help us at all.  Some aspects perhaps more than others.


How do we get people to talk to each other especially when they are fundamentally opposed?

The answer is never too easily arrived at.


  1. Respect for the opposing side
  2. Start discussions from a base where neither side has a historical advantage going into negotiations.
  3. That the outcome of the talks does not produce one winner.
  4. That the outcome of the talks does not produce one loser
  5. That the outcome of the talks produces two winners.


There would certainly be two winners were we to have a Protestant Messiah turn the Protestant people towards managing the affairs of their own country as no more than equals in this joint venture.  This self-empowerment would, I feel, create a better place for the next generation of Irish people.  The people of the six counties would no longer sit waiting on the pronouncements of English politicians, no longer waiting on a budget which is defined in terms of; ‘what is the least you can do with’, but rather how much is needed to create success.


It’s either this great effort to take control of our own destiny or languish for more years to come looking at the grey wet hills of Ulster.  The dark unlit oblique and obsolete housing in every town, the place is just literally closing down for want of energised management and this management is not going to come from an English politician wanting to send jobs to Ulster, which is after all Ireland, when he can keep these jobs in Stockport or Burnley.


The founding fathers of Irish Republicanism were progressive Protestants:  Wolfe Tone, Dublin Church of Ireland, Henry Joy McCracken and his sister Anne, Belfast Presbyterians.  Our struggle for a new independent Ireland must not be seen in terms of Protestant, Catholic or Presbyterian but in terms of Irishmen and Irishwomen in a New Ireland.


The economic state in the six counties is critically flawed and shall remain so until a National government representative of all the people presents our trading Nation as a single unit to the world. We in this movement propose to the people of Ireland, north and south, Protestant, Catholic and Dissenter a federal solution, whereby Ulster, Munster, Leinster and Connaught shall have their own regional parliaments.


Our constitution declares only for equality and it remains for the Irish people to work hard in harmony with our neighbours at securing this and a bright future for all the people.


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