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Ulster for Beginners – Part V


Ulster is British because that is what the majority of her citizens want. This has been shown time and time again in elections, referendums and opinion polls. [Although last time I looked it was getting pretty close in elections.]

In the most recent general election, in 1992, unionists of various descriptions won 13 of Ulster’s 17 seats and 64.7% of the vote. In 1973 the government held a referendum on Ulster’s future. 98.9% of those who voted voted for the continuance of the union. Much was made of the boycott of the poll by nationalists and the consequent low turnout of only 58.7%. As Morrison points out, the highest ever turnout in a Northern Ireland general election was 72%, so even if all those between 58.7% and 72% had voted for a united Ireland it would still have only represented about 14% of the total vote.

[That would be John Morrison who wrote “The Ulster Cover-up”.

I am not sure about the maths here.

There are all sorts of reasons to think that the turnout would be higher in a referendum where every vote counts. After all, there is less point in voting Conservative in a safe Labour seat than a marginal. Fortunately, we have the example of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement Referendum where the turnout was 81%.

So let us assume that without a boycott the Border poll would also have had an 81% turnout. Let us also assume that all the “extra” voters would have voted leave. Those who voted remain represent .989 x .587 or 58.1% of the electorate. 58.1% of 81% is 71.7%. So the maximum leave vote would have been 28.3%. I think.]

Commentators often look at the [changing] ratio of Catholics to Protestants and draw the conclusion that Catholics will eventually outnumber Protestants and that therefore they will vote Northern Ireland into a united Ireland. This ignores two essential points. Firstly, projecting the past into the future is a dangerous business. Secondly, an individual’s choice between being a unionist or a nationalist is not determined solely by his religion. The nationalist vote is soft. In 1964, for instance, after 40 years of peace, prosperity and progress, the Northern Ireland Labour Party, which supported the Union, succeeded in pushing nationalists into third place in the general election of that year.

[So the NILP got all its support from Nationalists, eh? Not true. By the way, that is the Northern Ireland Labour Party and not the Labour Party which refused and continues to refuse to organise in the province.]

Opinion polls also show little evidence of a desire for a united Ireland. In January 1996, in a survey carried out for the Belfast Telegraph only 17% of those interviewed chose a united Ireland as their preferred outcome.

[Very similar to recent polls I have seen although it does beg the question why nationalists get 40-45% of the vote in elections.]

A Unionist politician once had an illuminating discussion with a Catholic Unionist voter. The voter explained that most of his Catholic colleagues agreed that they did not want a united Ireland but that despite this they continued to vote for nationalist candidates. It seemed that they voted the way they did for reasons of communal solidarity.

[Question answered.]

Although the overwhelming evidence is that Ulster’s people do not wish to be part of a united Ireland for many Nationalists this counts for little. They employ a number of bogus arguments to demand that Ulster’s people should be ignored.

One of the favourite claims is that Northern Ireland was carved out of the historic nine county province of Ulster so as to ensure a Protestant and hence a Unionist majority so that Britain could hang on to a bit of Ireland and frustrate the ambitions of Irish nationalists.

This argument is nonsense. The government of the day was not guided by colonial considerations but by the principle of self-determination by which the majority decides.

It is worth dwelling on the exact meaning of the expression “self-determination”. Sinn Féin/IRA talk about “self-determination for the people of Ireland”. This is typical of the way they twist words so that they mean what they want them to mean. Why Ireland? Why not take the British Isles as a whole? The description of the island of Ireland as if it were one political unit is entirely arbitrary. Anyway, if the people of London have no right to a say in the affairs of Limerick, as nationalists and republicans claim, then what right do the people of Limerick have to have a say in the affairs of Lisburn, Lurgan or Londonderry? The people of Limerick do have a right to a say in the affairs of the people of Letterkenny for the same reason that the people of London have a right to a say in the affairs of Limavady – because the people of Limavady, have, at successive general elections, elected representatives who are content to be governed in this way.

[The whole principle of self-determination is that it is the people who decide the borders.]

The nine-county argument assumes that Britain wanted to hang on to Ireland. Nothing could be further from the truth. In three Home Rule Bills, from 1886 to 1914, the government sought to dispose of the whole of Ireland in one go. Even in the Treaty of 1921 the British government imposed upon the Unionists both the separate parliament at Stormont and a mechanism by which North and South could join together. Stormont was intended as a staging post to a united Ireland.

[Actually, Stormont was part of the 1920 Government of Ireland Act.]

Third, the historic nine-county Ulster is no such thing [Aargh!]. Ulster’s boundaries were always flexible. The nine-county Ulster was drawn up by a Welshman, John Davies, for no better reason than it helped to divide Ireland into four roughly equal provinces. At no point did the province have any governmental significance. The only occasion when the nine-county Ulster is or has ever been treated as a distinct unit is for inter-provincial sporting events.

[Can I really be sure about Davies’s intentions? Can I really be sure of his Welshness? there’s no mention of it in his Wikipedia page. No mention of Ulster’s boundaries either.]

There are other nationalist claims that do not stand up to examination. “Ireland should be reunited” is one of them. Re-united? When was it united before? Brian Boru was the only man ever to have commanded all Irishmen, but even he was only the leader of a number of factions, who, had they not formed an alliance to fight the Vikings would as likely as not have been fighting each other. He was the Eisenhower of his day – the leader of a military coalition – but no one has ever suggested that the wartime alliance gave the United States some kind of jurisdiction over Britain. The only time that there has ever been a united Ireland has been under the British crown.

Part I
Part II
Part III
Part IV
Part V
Part VI
Part VII
Part IX

9 comments to Ulster for Beginners – Part V

  • The whole principle of self-determination is that it is the people who decide the borders. (Quoted from the post above.)

    Not as they decide elections.

    “When the historian attributes nationality to any group, he establishes a presumption in favor of any acts involving an exercise of autonomy which the group may commit; when he denies nationality, he establishes a presumption against any exercise of authority. The attribution of nationality therefore involves a sanction – a sanction for the exercise of autonomy for self-determination. … [These implications lead] the historian to deny nationality to groups of whom he morally disapproves.”

    The quote is from the essay “The Historian’s use of Nationalism and Vice Versa” in American Civil War historian David Potter’s “The South and the Sectional Conflict”.

    “To ascribe nationality to the South is to validate the right of a pro-slavery movement to autonomy for self-determination. … [Few historians were willing to do this, which] impelled them to shirk the consequences of their own belief that group identity is the basis for autonomy.

    In the half-century since he wrote that warning, battle and strategy history has preserved the historical fact that southerners fought hard while a university-generated PC literature, as voluminous as it is valueless, has portrayed the Confederacy as hopelessly riven from its birth by intense conflicts of class and gender, never mind race (something which I – as glad as the next man that slavery lost – would not mind were it not so insolently untrue).

    These reflections have little to do with Northern or Southern Ireland as such, but they do bear on “the principle of self-determination”. To say that a nation can resist invasion, whether of armed soldiers or of cry-bullying moochers, is to say it has some right to preserve its identity against internal as well as external enemies.

    – Despite the hopes and lies of some Eurocrats, the EU is not a nation – as, for example, article 50 demonstrates. Thus determining the Brexit referendum result did not require adding in the votes of the other 26 nations in the EU.

    – The US constitution never had anything like the article 50 clause. It can be argued that it was the civil war itself that proved conclusively that the US was a nation, not a federation of continuingly-sovereign states, but however one views the possibilities of the ante-bellum situation, the war’s decision was definitive.

    – The UK has been a nation for longer than the US has existed – and the period of time after which all of geographical Scotland was part of the Scottish nation and before all of it was part of the UK is arguably shorter than the period of time since. Despite this, in the Scottish indyref, the natz expected a win of 50% plus one vote to give them rule of all Scotland, not just of the single hand-count of electoral districts covering greater Glasgow and the city of Dundee that might yet have been all they won in that case (i.e. not leaving the vast majority of Scotland’s 32 electoral districts still part of the UK which their majorities voted to remain in). At they same time, they saw no need for votes from England, Wales or Northern Ireland to be included in the count. Not only could one challenge either proposition separately, but the self-determination argument for defending both simultaneously is circular. As far as the natz were concerned, the vote was to justify assigning autonomy to the group – whose asserted autonomy was to justify the boundary assigned to the vote that would create it.

    “Le plebiscite de tous les jours” is one way of describing how history tells us which groups are nations, though this plebiscite obviously never commanded the assenting voice of absolutely everyone. Long ago, England was a heptarchy and Ireland was a pentarchy and it could be said that both offered some possibility of a future united state. Eleven hundred years ago, England’s heptarchy became just such a united state. Ireland’s pentarchy never did (and, I would argue from Scottish as well as Irish Gaelic history, never looked like it was anywhere near doing so). Patrick is correct to say that

    The only time that there has ever been a united Ireland has been under the British crown.

    There is a problem if the people’s deciding of borders occurs on the same timescale as the people’s deciding who rules for the next five years. If my vote binds you, but on the day your vote threatens to bind me I’ll devolve, secede or redraw boundaries, then it’s as if a football game were played with one team convening a rule redefinition committee whenever the other scores a goal. But that objection is easier to make than to say just who gets to tell whom which groups do and don’t have autonomy, and on what grounds.

    So the end of my long comment echoes its beginning: self-determination decides the borders? Not like try-again-in-5-years elections it doesn’t.

  • Mr Ed


    Reading your post set my imagination off, I heard Mr Valaraukar, the Taioseach, proclaiming on ‘Exit Day’ for the UK from the EU ‘The South will rise again’.

    A phrase I would wish be heard, and realised in Saigon.

  • Mr Ed


    The US constitution never had anything like the article 50 clause.

    To me, the reference to forming. ‘a more perfect union‘ was a reference to ‘perfect’ in the grammatical sense as ‘completed‘ not ‘unimprovable‘, so it was intended to,be permanent and rather like unfrying an egg. I care naught for 2 centuries of US case law on this point, just saying what I take from the wording.

  • James Hargrave

    Agree in relation to the late Republic of Vietnam.

    But the Irish chief may care to reflect on a line from an Australian PM of Irish descent: ‘A soufflé doesn’t rise twice’.

  • bob sykes

    Of course, if Ulster were transferred to RoI, Brexit would be much simpler.

  • staghounds

    I just wish that the Irish, like the Balkans and the Levantines, would keep their history and quarrels at home.

  • Staghounds (July 21, 2019 at 8:39 pm), England and Ireland, like England and Scotland, like England and Wales, are neighbours and cannot help interacting. Perhaps many an Irish Catholic wished Henry VIII had kept his marital problems at home, and for sure every would-be conqueror of continental Europe has wished England would keep its expeditionary forces and its loans at home – but inevitably, this does not happen.

    I am on record as thinking it a mitigating feature of an otherwise bad situation that after the 2017 election the ten Ulster Unionist MPs elected to Westminster did not stay home.

  • Sam Duncan

    “Of course, if Ulster were transferred to RoI, Brexit would be much simpler.”

    The British monarch, as High King, simply becoming King be much simpler… Taking Ireland into the UK would be much simpler… Dominion status would be much simpler… Two provinces would be much simpler… Per-county self-determination would be much simpler… An Anglo-Irish Agreement would be much simpler… It’s high-handed Big Ideas to make things “much simpler” that have been the cause of most of Ireland’s problems over the last four centuries.

    And why would it be much simpler? The border’s still going to be there; you’re just moving it into the Irish Sea. Irish businesses use the UK as a land bridge to the continent. Northern businesses do just as much trade (more, probably) with the mainland UK as with the South. Uniting Ireland doesn’t solve those problems; it just makes the maps look neater. And royally pisses about a million of the most loyal British subjects you’ll find anywhere, who would not take kindly to being turned over to the Republic against their repeatedly expressed wishes.

  • Paul Marks

    Even without “the Backstop” the “deal” of Mrs May kept the British people under the rule of the European Union – it was designed to be the disguised rule of the European Union. Mrs May and the Civil Servants are BAD PEOPLE – the truth is that brutally simple, and Ulster has nothing to do with it.

    Turning to Ulster…..

    The importance of Roman Catholic Unionists can not be over stressed – loyalty to the Crown has never been just a Protestant thing. And I would expect believing Roman Catholics to become more alienated from the Republic of Ireland now it is become a parody of a “Woke” state – a sort of San Francisco accept on the Irish Sea. Unless, of course, that shower of excrement that makes up the majority of the Parliament in Westminster forces Woke “Social Justice” down the throats of Ulster anyway.

    If you are going to get “Wokeness” from Dublin or London then it does not matter much which you are ruled by. The thing about Unionism (Protestant or Catholic) is that it is conservative – it stands for Freedom of Speech, Religious Liberty, the family, and other traditional principles. The agenda of BOTH Dublin and Westminster runs against everything that most Unionists (Protestant or Roman Catholic) believe in.

    “Ulster society is changing Paul” – so it is, for example people do not pick up litter outside war memorials now – not so small a thing as you might think.

    But what the “liberal” calls “change” is actually DECAY – it is like rotting woodwork, if the wood in a roof continues to “change” (decay) eventually the roof collapses.

    Liberty is about people being able to express their opinions – not just on trivial matters, but on the most important things of life – and it is exactly this sort of Freedom of Speech that the “liberal” DETESTS and seeks to punish as “Hate Speech”.

    And society depends on strong voluntary institutions – the family (husband, wife, children), and religious and secular associations. Without this (in an “atomised” situation) the state takes over – from “the cradle to the grave”.

    Prime Minister Gladstone was no hero to Unionists (quite the contrary) – but the philosophical and cultural stance of Prime Minister Gladstone is, ironically enough, exactly what Unionism stands for.

    And we all know that today Gladstone would be put in prison (in Britain or the Republic of Ireland) for speaking as his conscience demanded.

    Whether it was his opposition to Islam or many other matters, Gladstone would be punished by both the United Kingdom or the Republic of Ireland today.

    In the modern “liberal” world there is no room for real liberalism.

    But there is still hope – as the “liberalism” of Francis Bacon, Thomas Hobbes, Jeremy Bentham and so on, their belief in state DESPOTISM is a dead-end-philosophy – it offers nothing to the soul of human beings. It is a philosophy without courage or honour and it does not appeal to what is best in the human spirit.

    This fake “liberalism” (this worship of state despotism in the name of “happiness” which is actually the “happiness” of pigs) will not last – it will go. Its ending may be terrible – but at least it will end.