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Ulster for Beginners – Part IX

This is the final part and on a day when Ulster politics could have a big impact on British and by extension EU politics. I hope to put up a follow up post – Reflections 20 years on, that sort of thing – but I hope all sorts of things that I never get round to.

Britain’s Role (continued)

Almost since the moment the Troubles began, British governments have been is search of what T E Utley described as the “mythical centre”. There is a belief that with just a few tweaks here and a few drops of the old diplomatic oil there, a solution can be found that can satisfy all. Thus Ulster has seen a succession of negotiations since 1973, all of which have ended in failure of greater or lesser magnitude. Ulster’s colonial masters simply cannot seem to get to grips with the idea that there are some disputes which cannot be resolved by compromise. The politicians might as well have tried finding a compromise between driving on the left and driving on the right. Or between a murderer and his intended victim. Or jumping out of a window and not jumping out of a window (elasticated ropes perhaps?). There is a reason for this. There is no compromise between going to war and not going to war. Or being governed by people you trust and people you do not trust. Or being forced to learn Gaelic and not being forced to learn Gaelic.

[Slightly overegging the omelette here but the point is clear enough: there is no compromise to be had.]

This belief in compromise has led to successive governments making all nature of concessions to nationalists. In the early stages this included standing down the B-Specials, disarming the RUC, permitting the creation of No-Go areas and generally taking a softly, softly approach towards terrorism. In more recent times the Government has sought to appease nationalism by introducing “Fair Employment” legislation, signing the Anglo-Irish Agreement and declaring that it had “no selfish, strategic or economic interest” in the Province.

[I should perhaps explain what a “no-go” area is. Or was. It is an area the police and the army do not enter. According to unionists this gave the IRA the opportunity to arm and organise.]

Such compromises might have been justified had they had the effect of reducing tension. Of course, they have done no such thing. The IRA had taken enormous comfort from government concessions, seeing them as a reward for their campaign of violence. Meanwhile nationalists, far from running out of things to complain about, have merely switched from demanding civil rights to demanding joint sovereignty.

Although government policy towards Ulster has, in many ways, been weak, there is one area where the Government has been right. Throughout the Troubles the Government has accepted the principle of self-determination and that the people of Ulster have the right to determine their own destiny. Credit where credit is due.

The Way Ahead

Ulster’s tragedy is uncertainty. For the best part of thirty years they have had to suffer a government whose actions have been contradictory and confusing. While Ulster’s people are unsure of their destiny and governments make little effort to put their minds at rest then there will always be those who believe that violence can pay political dividends. On the other hand, were there no doubt that Ulster was British and was going to stay that way then the IRA would soon lose support and melt away.

[Is this true? This question came up in a Samizdata post in its very early days. The best explanation I thought for the peace that had broken out was the collapse of the Soviet Union. All of a sudden, the supply of arms dried up. Which I suppose suggests that there is little fear of a resurgence in republicanism – unless that is a post-Brexit European Union gets into the arms-smuggling business.]

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

Ulster for Beginners – Part VIII

Consequences of a British withdrawal

Many people on the mainland ask themselves why the Union between Great Britain and Northern Ireland should be preserved. Wouldn’t the world be so much easier if they just got out?

There can be no doubt that such a withdrawal would be a massive betrayal of a people who feel themselves to be British by a nation that used to be renowned for keeping its word [Why else would foreigners refer to “Perfidious Albion”?]. It cannot be in Britain’s interest to gain a reputation for selling out its friends.

In addition to the objections of principle there are a number of practical difficulties. First of all, Ulster would become a highly unstable area which would be bound to affect Britain in one way or another. Secondly, Britain would have shown that she allows herself to be pushed around by a bunch of terrorists. The lesson would not be lost on others. Running away from problems is no solution – they have a funny habit of catching you up.

Britain’s Role

“Despite the many attributes of the English, a peculiar talent for solving the problems of Ireland is not among them”. So said the Labour politician, Roy Jenkins. He was remarkably perceptive. There are a number of traits of British politicians that have undermined Britain’s ability to deal with Sinn Fein/IRA violence. One of the greatest of these is guilt.

[Quoting Roy Jenkins, Crozier? Bad move.]

→ Continue reading: Ulster for Beginners – Part VIII

Samizdata quote of the day

One incident of Sectarianism in Northern Ireland does stick in my mind – myself and a friend were dropping off a car at a “park and ride” in Belfast and went for a bus – I went to buy a ticket and the driver said “We are full”, the bus was half empty so I tried again and got “WE ARE FULL” as a reply, and the bus drove off.

I asked my friend what that was all about – and he said “it is your English accent” and when I questioned further I got the further information “the driver was clearly from the Nationalist Community”.

So there you are – my own “Rosa Parks” moment, except that the lady was told to sit at the back of the bus, whereas I was not allowed on the bus at all.

Paul Marks

Ulster for Beginners – Part VII

[My apologies for the large gap in installments. Holidays, ingrained sloth etc. Anyway, back to the grind, and this time we have a cracker…]

Civil Rights

The civil rights campaign was the single most important factor in shaping Ulster’s recent history. Its allegations [ugh] provided the pretext for IRA violence, the belief amongst many that Ulster is all about nice Catholics and nasty Protestants and the belief in government circles that in Ulster, at least, democracy does not work.

But were the allegations true? If they were, were they evidence of a corrupt state or merely the odd corrupt official?

Here are some of the more famous accusations of injustice:

Londonderry gerrymandering

This is one of the most oft-repeated Stormont scandals. The charge is that Stormont arranged Londonderry’s electoral boundaries in such a way as to ensure that a city with a Catholic majority returned a Unionist-dominated council. This assumes that Nationalists used to get more votes than Unionists. The truth is that we will never know as in the years between 1936 and 1968 there was not a single occasion when Nationalists and Unionists fought each other in a City Council election. There is a second assumption: that the boundaries were drawn up for the sole purpose of ensuring a Unionist majority. Once again we may never know the facts because the boundaries were drawn up in 1936, long before the Civil Rights Era. What we do know is that the Nationalists of the day did not propose an alternative. It is a peculiar variety of grave injustice that is not worth complaining about. Even when the boundaries were changed in 1973, nationalists still failed to get a majority of the votes.

Housing Policy

The charge is that Unionist councillors discriminated in favour of Protestant tenants when handing out council properties. This does not correspond with the facts. In the late sixties, according to surveys taken at the time, 40.9% of Catholic families lived in public sector housing, compared to 32.6% of Protestant families. Of course, this says nothing about the quality of the housing; it could just be that the Protestants had all the nicest houses, or about the proportions of the two communities who would have been eligible for public sector housing. As it happens, in Londonderry the Protestants did occupy slightly better houses, but their Catholic neighbours occupied considerably better properties than Protestants in Belfast, or for that matter Protestants living in the Fountain estate near the Bogside.

[For that matter, housing in the (unionist) Fountain estate is still clearly in a worse state than housing in the (nationalist) Creggan.]

Employment Statistics

Professor Richard Rose’s 1968 study Governing without Consensus found that there was “…a limited tendency for Protestants to have a higher occupational class than Catholics.” Much of this could be explained by reference to geography: the Catholics tended to live in the West [of the province] and the jobs tended to be in the East. After 24 years of direct rule from Westminster things have changed slightly, but even now Catholics are twice as likely to be unemployed as Protestants. There are two possibilities: either the British are as bad as Stormont, or Stormont was not half as bad as is claimed. In explaining differing rates of unemployment it is important to bear in mind the existence of other factors.

[It occurs to me that this is a rather bizarre argument. Why would people continue to live in a place where there is little work?]

Treatment of Catholics

Much is made of the recruitment, or lack of it, of Catholics into the Stormont government and other industries. That discrimination happened is undeniable and regrettable, but there are a number of mitigating factors and Catholics must take some of the blame for the fate that befell them.

[Regrettable. Really? Why employ people who are opposed to your very existence? Or might be.]

Catholic Attitudes

Much is made of the way the state treated Catholics, but just as important was the way Catholics treated the state. Throughout its existence the Catholic church and the Nationalist parties refused to accept the legitimacy of Stormont (or, for that matter, that Northern Ireland was a part of the United Kingdom). They discouraged Catholics from joining the police and civil service and for most of Stormont’s history the Nationalist party boycotted Stormont. Patrick Shea, a Catholic who did join the civil service, described how the Catholic community’s view of him and those like him was that “we had joined the enemy; we were lost souls.”

Education provides another example of how Catholics tended to distance themselves from the state. Initially, the Northern Ireland government had wanted to create a non-denominational school system. The Catholic church made it plain that it wanted Catholic children taught in Catholic Church schools and not state schools. This provided the Unionist government with two headaches. Firstly, under the Government of Ireland Act [1921] it was illegal for the government to “endow any religion”. Secondly, by funding Catholic schools it would be creating an anomalous situation where public funds would be being used to subsidise private assets ie. Catholic schools. Eventually, a compromise was reached where Catholic schools were funded, but at a lower rate. All said and done, lower funding did nothing to improve the educational prospects of Catholics.

A further self-inflicted disadvantage was the tendency for Catholics to have larger families than Protestants. This had two effects on employment. Firstly, unemployment tends to be highest amongst the young. If a group has a higher birth rate it will have more young people among its population and therefore higher unemployment. Secondly, mass surveys have shown that the more children there are in a family the poorer the educational attainment. None of this had anything to do with discrimination.

What people often forget about the situation prior to 1969 was that the system had safeguards. The Stormont government could not just do as it pleased. The safeguards were written into the Government of Ireland Act 1920 which included clauses outlawing discrimination by the government on the grounds of religion. These clauses were never used to launch a legal action against the Stormont government. One can only conclude that civil rights campaigners knew that their evidence was flimsy and that allegations of discrimination were used to promote a united Ireland rather than to right wrongs.

Even if the claims were correct and even if the system could never have been made to work this is hardly relevant now. Ulster has had direct rule from Westminster for a quarter of a century. Whatever, the vices of Ulster’s English governors may have been, sectarianism cannot be numbered among them. The period since 1972 has seen an enormous growth of laws, agencies and funds aimed at eliminating discrimination. Ulster has a Fair Employment Act and a Fair Employment Commission to ensure that employers do not discriminate on religious grounds. The Community Relations Council promotes cross-community understanding [Ha!]. Housing has been taken out of local government control and put in the hands of the Housing Executive. The Standing Commission on Human Rights monitors Ulster’s human rights record.

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

Ulster for Beginners – Part VI

The Republic of Ireland

While people will usually accept that the majority of Ulster’s citizens object to a united Ireland many still find themselves wondering why. After all, they say, the Republic seems a very pleasant, friendly sort of place and it is a modern democracy and a member of the European Union.

One might as well ask why Southern England doesn’t unite with France. After all it’s a modern democracy and a member of the European Union etc. The simple truth is that the people of Southern England have no desire to become French. To them the idea is simply absurd. The same holds for the British people of Ulster.

Another example is that of Canada and the United States. There, with the exception of Quebec, both peoples share the same language, a similar culture and a similar constitutional tradition. And yet, there is absolutely no desire on the part of Canadians to become Americans. Although a union between those two countries would almost certainly work there is something about being Canadian that Canadians wish to preserve.

Let’s, for a change, put the boot on the other foot. Why doesn’t the Republic of Ireland put an end to all this bother and rejoin the United Kingdom? After all, the two countries share similar geographies, languages and culture. Once again, to the vast majority of the citizens of the Republic of Ireland the idea seems absurd. But if union with the United Kingdom seems absurd to them why should union with the Republic of Ireland seem any less absurd to Ulster unionists?

All this does not bring us any closer to a rational explanation of the resistance to a united Ireland. Maybe there isn’t a rational explanation for national feeling. But the fact that something is not rational does not mean it does not exist.

In addition to what might be described as “national feeling” there are practical, real-world reasons why Ulster’s majority oppose a united Ireland.

One of these is the influence of the Catholic Church which plays the dominant role in administering the education and health systems of the Republic of Ireland. It does not like mere politicians interfering in that role. In 1952, Noel Browne, Irish Minister for Health, proposed a modest set of health reforms, known as the Mother and Child proposal. This was condemned by the Catholic Church and the proposals were dropped.

[Well, this is out of date!] → Continue reading: Ulster for Beginners – Part VI

Ulster for Beginners – Part V

Self-determination

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.]

→ Continue reading: Ulster for Beginners – Part V

Ulster for Beginners – Part IV

A Brief History of Ulster (continued)

In the search for a replacement for Stormont the government came to the conclusion that any scheme had to be acceptable to the constitutional nationalists of the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) which had been formed in 1970. After negotiations held at Sunningdale in Berkshire, a power-sharing agreement was reached between the SDLP and the leadership of the Unionist Party which included a council of Ireland.

The Ulster Unionist Party split over the Council of Ireland. In the general election of February 1974 the agreement was decisively rejected at the polls. The government and the parties to the agreement ploughed on regardless. In May 1974, the Ulster Workers’ Council organised a general strike, aimed at bringing down the Council of Ireland. The strike was successful beyond its leaders’ wildest dreams, ending in the collapse of the power-sharing Executive.

[“wildest dreams”?]

In the absence of political stability the IRA campaign continued. Bombings and shootings became an every day event, added to by a new mainland bombing campaign. The government’s response was to pass the Prevention of Terrorism Act.

[Remember that? I don’t save that named persons could be banned from entering Great Britain but be perfectly free to walk around Ulster.

By the way, the timeline here is wrong. Shootings were an everyday event by 1971 and bombings by 1972. The mainland bombing campaign began in 1973.]

Between 1975-6 a constitutional convention was held which came close to agreement but failed. Internment was phased out and the government embarked upon a policy of treating terrorists as ordinary criminals. In 1975 the IRA murdered the British Ambassador to Ireland, Christopher Ewart-Biggs and in one day in 1979 murdered Lord Mountbatten while he was holidaying in the Republic of Ireland and 18 soldiers of the Parachute Regiment at Warrenpoint.

In 1981, Republican prisoners at the Maze jail demanded political status and began a dirty protest which grew into a hunger strike. Bobby Sands and 9 others died but the government stood firm.

[Hmm. IIRC that’s not quite true. They stood firm until the hunger strike was abandoned and then gave in.]

During the 1984 Conservative Conference, the IRA exploded a bomb in the main conference hotel where the Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, and members of the Cabinet were staying. In November 1985, the British and Irish government signed the Anglo-Irish Agreement in which the Republic of Ireland was given a say in the affairs of Northern Ireland in return for promises of greater security co-operation. The agreement was condemned by Unionists who resigned their seats in protest.

The Anglo-Irish Agreement did little to suppress IRA terrorism. In 1987 they exploded a bomb at a Remembrance Day ceremony in Enniskillen, killing 11. In 1990 they murdered Ian Gow MP, Parliamentary Private Secretary to Margaret Thatcher. In 1992 and 1993 the IRA exploded two huge bombs in the City of London. The damage ran into billions.

On 31st August 1994 the IRA declared a ceasefire. On 9th February 1996 they ended it, exploding another huge bomb, this time at South Quay in London’s Docklands. Two men died.

Since 1969 the world has become familiar with the bombings, shootings, beatings, boycotts and expulsions.

[Actually, the world probably wasn’t too familiar with the last three.]

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

Ulster for Beginners – Part III

A Brief History of Ulster (continued)

During the 1960s a number of complaints were made about Northern Ireland’s government which had been dominated by the Ulster Unionist Party since its inception. The thrust of the allegations was that Unionists had used their power in such a way as to make Catholics second-class citizens. There were a number of specific charges: that local government boundaries had been gerrymandered to the benefit of Unionists, that the local government franchise had not been reformed (again to the advantage of Unionists) and that Unionist local authorities discriminated against Catholics in housing and jobs. Complaints were also levelled at the B-Specials who, it was alleged, were exclusively Protestant. These allegations were denied by Unionists.

In 1967, an organisation calling itself the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association was set up to campaign against the alleged abuses of power. It claimed to be a cross-community group: Unionists claimed that it was an IRA front. Whatever the case was the facts are clear enough. The NICRA organised marches which led to conflict with the police and Protestants. After a particularly violent encounter in Londonderry on 5 October 1968, riots became a regular event throughout the province. In August 1969, after the annual (Protestant and unionist) Apprentice Boys’s of Derry parade in Londonderry, there was a riot by Catholics in the Bogside area of the city. Shortly afterwards there was a similar riot in Belfast. The Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC – the police) lost control and the army was brought in to keep the peace. This was the beginning of the Troubles that continue to this day.

Shortly afterwards the B-Specials were stood down and the RUC were disarmed. The army prevented members of the RUC from patrolling in nationalist areas and allowed the creation of No-Go areas where the “Queen’s writ did not run”.

The IRA used the opportunity to organise. By June 1970 it was making attacks on the Army and in February 1971 it murdered its first soldier. Violence in all its forms appeared to be escalating out of control and, in August 1971, the Stormont government, under Prime Minister Bryan Faulkner, introduced internment or detention without trial. The backlash from the IRA was ferocious. In January 1972, at the end of an illegal march against internment in Londonderry, there was an exchange of gunfire between the army and others resulting in the deaths of 13 civilians.

[I grate at my use of the word “murder”. “Killed” would be better. And when I say “illegal”, “banned” would be better.

The army was absolutely sure it was being fired on. By this time, it was a standard IRA tactic to use rioters as human shields while firing on soldiers. Just as in the killing of Lyra McKee the other day.]

Whatever the facts of the matter, Her Majesty’s Government, moved to abolish Stormont (despite the fact that Stormont had nothing to do with the army action) and established Direct Rule with a Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.

The abolition of Stormont, seen by many unionists as the only institution they could trust, provoked an immediate and bloody reaction. Recruitment to the UVF (no relation to the UVF of 1912) increased and the Ulster Defence Association (UDA) was formed. These groups began a campaign of sectarian murder.

[Hmm there seems to be a bit missing here. I was told on good-ish authority that the formation of the UDA was in response to sectarian violence from republicans. Although after a while it is difficult to tell who is doing the titting and who the tatting.]

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

Update 10/7/19

Actually there really was a bit missing there – there being differences between the published and electronic versions. The published version says, “Protestant paramilitary groups began a campaign of sectarian murder which in one form or another continued until 1994 when most of them declared a cease-fire following that announced by the IRA. (By the early 1990s Protestant paramilitaries were responsible for more killings than the IRA.)”

Ulster for Beginners – Part II

A Brief History of Ulster (continued)

In 1641, at a time of political instability in England and Scotland, there was a rebellion in Ireland against English rule. This led to the deaths of thousands of Protestants and only ended when Cromwell restored order in 1649.

[20 years ago I didn’t know this, but it seems that Protestants in Ulster put up a stout defence.]

In 1688, the Catholic king of Britain, James II, was deposed and came to Ireland to set about recapturing the throne from the new king, William III of Orange. Protestants remained loyal to William and in Londonderry held out for 114 days when they came under siege from James’s forces. The next year, on 1st July 1690, William inflicted a decisive defeat on James at the Battle of the Boyne. The Protestants were safe.

[King of Britain, eh? I think the correct title would have been King of England, Scotland and Ireland.

Were Protestants in any great danger at this time? Well, they certainly thought so.]

While Protestants were safe they were far from equal. While members of the Church of Ireland dominated the Irish parliament, presbyterians were excluded. In 1798, this led to a revolt which nationalists have labelled the “United Irishmen” Rebellion. In reality it was two rebellions, one in Ulster and one in the South. Both were put down but not before southern rebels in Wexford had carried out a massacre of their Protestant neighbours. This tends to undermine the claim that Irishmen were in some way “united”.

[This became known as the Scullabogue Barn Massacre

For those who don’t know Church of Ireland = Anglican = wishy-washy but Protestant.]

During the 19th century there was a growing movement to give Ireland some autonomy in her government. This movement did not gain any significant support in Ulster where Protestants feared that they would end up separated from the empire in a state dominated by the Catholic Church. After two unsuccessful attempts to legislate for Home Rule, an act did pass through the House of Commons in 1913. Ulster Unionists regarded this as a betrayal and resolved to resist the imposition of Home Rule in Ulster with their own army, the Ulster Volunteer Force.

In 1914, just at the moment that a civil war in Ireland seemed inevitable, the First World War broke out and Home Rule was suspended until the end of the war. Impatient for all out independence a small band of Republican extremists led a rebellion in Dublin in Easter 1916. The rebellion was quickly put down but after that Sinn Fein/IRA grew in importance and influence, eclipsing the constitutionalist Home Rulers.

[It is difficult to overemphasise the way that the Home Rule issue dominated politics at the time. It was not unlike Brexit is now.]

In the general election of 1918, Sinn Fein, demanding an all-Ireland republic, all but swept the board in what is now the Republic of Ireland while the Ulster Unionist Party all but swept the board in what is now Northern Ireland. The IRA began a guerilla war against the British presence in Ireland. The UK parliament legislated for two separate parliaments in Ireland, one for the north and one for the south. This was the first time that His Majesty’s Government had accepted that Ulster was different. The IRA refused to accept this settlement continuing its campaign against British forces. After another year of war the Anglo-Irish Treaty was signed which created the Irish Free State with dominion status but kept Northern Ireland as part of the United Kingdom albeit with its own parliament. For all their bombings and shootings, the IRA had achieved virtually nothing which had not already been offered to democratic politicians.

[Well, I suppose dominion is better than devolution. But then again, for how long would dominion have been denied? Of course, I say it’s better but better for whom?]

Unionists wanted to believe that the 1921 settlement had settled things for good; but Irish nationalists had other ideas. Irish nationalists and republicans, simply did not accept the will of the majority in Northern Ireland and demanded that it be incorporated into their state. At the time this was not an uncommon way of thinking, with similar aspirations being held by Hitler and Mussolini.

Although an attempt had been made to incorporate Ulster into the Irish Free State in 1921-22, the IRA being defeated by the Northern Ireland Government, it was not the end of the matter. In 1937, the Free State severed almost all of its links with the United Kingdom, announcing a constitution in which Articles 2 and 3 laid claim to the whole of the island of Ireland.

[You don’t “announce” a constitution do you? But what do you do? Publish? Too weak. Promulgate? Too pompous. Enact? Introduce?]

During the 1940s and the 1950s there were sporadic attempts by the IRA to bring down the Northern Ireland’s government, which by now had based itself at Stormont, on the outskirts of Belfast. Each time these attempts foundered on the twin rocks of internment and effective patrolling by Ulster’s B-Special constabulary.

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

Ulster for Beginners – Part I

A few months ago Karen Bradley, the Northern Ireland Secretary, revealed that she knew precious little about the unusual conditions that exist in Ulster. With the recent killing of a journalist by some version of the IRA and with the 50th anniversary of the beginning of “The Troubles” coming up, it would be useful to be in possession of a concise explanation of why Ulster is the way it is and how it got that way.

Fortunately, just such an explanation exists. In 1998, the Friends of the Union published an excellent little pamphlet entitled Ulster for Beginners. I know all about its excellence largely because I was responsible for writing it.

Luckily – or unluckily? – I have kept a computerised draft all these years. It’s a bit too long for a blog posting so I have broken it up into chunks. What follows is the first chunk along with comments [in square brackets] by my older – and hopefully wiser – self. I will put up further installments assuming there are not too many objections.

→ Continue reading: Ulster for Beginners – Part I

You and whose army?

Here is my cunning plan to avoid a hard border in Ireland.

Don’t build one.

The UK doesn’t want it, Ireland doesn’t want it. Problem solved, I’d have thought, but the EU does not agree:

No-deal Brexit would mean hard Irish border, EU confirms

The EU has injected further pressure into the Brexit talks by confirming it will enforce a hard border on the island of Ireland in the event of a no-deal outcome, despite the risk this would pose to peace.

It will enforce? Er, with whose… personnel will that be done?

And why might that be?

“Dublin’s landlords would rather put their properties on Airbnb than rent to local families,” wails the strapline to an article by John Harris in the Guardian called “30,000 empty homes and nowhere to live: inside Dublin’s housing crisis”.

To give him credit John Harris has never been one to do all his reporting from a swivel chair in Kings Cross. He was one of the few Guardian writers to foresee a Leave victory in the EU referendum, having co-authored with John Domokos a well-regarded series of video and written reports from some of the most depressed parts of the UK. Now he is talking to people struggling to find somewhere to live in Dublin. Here is how he describes the situation:

For want of a flat with a secure tenancy, the two of them have lived here for almost two years, in what the Irish government calls a “hub”…

*

I pay £95 for a single night’s stay (including a £43 “cleaning fee”), which highlights why whoever owns it has decided to rent it out in this way. The same move has been made by scores of other landlords: in August 2018, there were reckoned to be 3,165 entire properties listed on Airbnb in Dublin, compared with only 1,329 available for long-term rent.

*

The city is smattered with key boxes for Airbnb apartments. A stock line among activists demanding action from the government gets to the heart of all this: in 21st-century Dublin, they say, homeless families stay in hotels, and tourists stay in houses.

*

To make things even more difficult, her landlord then decided to sell up, which forced her to suddenly confront a private-rented housing market in which the monthly rent for anything similar was well over €1,500 (£1,300).

*

I am sure this is all honestly reported. But I think Mr Harris might be failing to see what is in front of his nose. All else being equal, most landlords prefer long term tenants to short term ones. A nice steady sum arriving in the bank every month makes for an easy life – and for a relationship of mutual trust to grow between landlord and tenant. In contrast. short term lets carry many risks: that the tenants will not look after the place, having little incentive to do so; that they will get into arrears with the rent or skip without paying it, and, most obviously, that the property will sometimes be vacant and earning you no money.

When most of the landlords in a place are seen to flee the predictability of the long term market for the uncertainty of short term lets, or even more perversely for the sheer unrelenting work involved in “turning over” a property every few days for each new AirBnB customer, there is usually a two word explanation. I did not see those two words anywhere in Mr Harris’s article, though this sentence came close:

Central Dublin – along with 20 other areas of the country – is now classified as a “rent pressure zone”, which caps annual rent increases at 4%, but politicians and activists claim this gets nowhere near tackling the causes of skyrocketing housing costs.

The missing two words were, of course, “rent control”. I don’t know Dublin. I don’t know its housing laws. But as soon as I saw that line “For want of a flat with a secure tenancy” I knew that rent control was at the bottom of this story. And so it proved. It took me only a few keystrokes to find this report by Fiona Reddan in the Irish Times:

Will rent controls start to work in 2018?

That was written in January. It is now December. Judging from Mr Harris’s description, it looks like rent controls in Dublin “worked” exactly as rent controls usually do. If he had happened to read Ms Reddan’s prescient article from eleven months ago (I suppose it would be asking too much for him to have read Henry Hazlitt’s even more prescient words on rent control, written with reference to New York in 1961 but eerily applicable to Dublin in 2018), he might have had a somewhat better idea as to why the 4% cap on rent increases fails to tackle the causes of the crisis, as he sees it. Answer: it is one of the causes. Ms Reddan writes,

If you’re wondering why the much-vaunted rent controls, first introduced this time last year, are having so little impact on stalling price growth, consider this investor’s tale.

He had a house rented out close to Dublin that was bringing in €1,300 a month – far below the market rates, which were more than €1,800. Stymied by the rent controls, which limit rent increases to 4 per cent a year (and 2 per cent a year for tenancies in place before the end of 2016), when his tenants left he was looking only at marginal increases in his rent.

So what did he do? Sold this property and bought the one next door. Previously owner occupied, it wasn’t subject to rent controls, which meant that he could slap a new, higher rate of €1,900 on it. The difference in rent quickly covered his legal and stamp duty costs.