Michael V. Duignan, ‘Historical Introduction’, in The Shell Guide to Ireland (1967) - cont. [4/4]

Source: Lord Killanin & Michael V. Duignan, The Shell Guide to Ireland [2nd edn.] (London: Ebury Press 1967)

Modern Ireland, 1691-1921


Modern Ireland, 1691-1921



The Rise and Fall of the “Protestant Nation”, 1691-1801
The Williamite victory was followed by further confiscations, so that by 1700 only one seventh of the land remained in Catholic ownership. Even this small fraction was to be further whittled away by the operation of the Penal Laws enacted against Catholics between 1695 and 1727 in violation of the Treaty of Limerick. The worst aspect of the revolution thereby completed was not the transfer of the land to a small minority, but the replacement of a patriarchal system, in which the lord was primarily the lord of dependants who looked to him for protection, by a system in which he was an absolute lord of land to be exploited solely in his own interest.

The population was by now quite a medley: Old Irish, Old English, Elizabethan and Stuart Planters, Cromwellians, and Williamites, with the Catholic (Gaelic and Old English) element much the largest. The victorious Protestant minority was divided into two hostile halves, the episcopalian Church of Ireland on the one hand, the Nonconformists on the other. From 1691 onwards the Episcopalians constituted that “Ascendancy” whose plebeian aristocracy aroused the contempt of the blood-conscious Gael, the hostility of the democratic Nonconformist.

The Catholic majority was deprived of political and civic rights and was excluded from public office, the legal profession, the army, and several branches of trade and manufacture. Its Church was forbidden by law. It was not permitted to educate its children either at home or abroad. The Catholic peasant was among the most oppressed in Western Europe: weighed down by taxes and tithes as well as by rack rents and forced labour, exposed to capricious eviction, and demoralised by poverty and unemployment. The old aristocracy was gone, the leaders of the people and the patrons of the poets and poetry that had so long fanned the flame of Gaelic resistance. For a time the bardic schools and the bardic profession managed, indeed, to survive by the liberality of the countryside, but soon, if he would live, the poet had to reach for the spade, or stoop to sráid-éigse - the demeaning balladry of the market-place. Then the polished literary language, the [44] classical metres, and the traditional themes ceased to be cultivated, their place taken by a new literature in the peasant language, a literature whose themes were the unfortunate “Dark Rosaleen” (Ireland) and the joys and sorrows of the oppressed. In some districts the poets contined for a while to vie with one another in “Courts of Poetry” meeting in farmhouse or inn, but their normal stage was the market-place or, preferably, the peasant’s fireside, where captive listeners absorbed their outpouring into the fibre of their being. In this way the last Gaelic struggle for the soul of the nation was prolonged into the nineteenth century, when the advice of political leaders and the struggle for survival in an age of hunger and emigration induced the masses to jettison the last treasure of their Gaelic heritage, a treasure which had come to seem a badge of servitude at home and which proved an impediment to advancement abroad.

The democratic Nonconformists, too, had their galling religious and civic grievances. They, too, were helots; helots to the same oligarchy as the Catholic peasantry. Inevitably, their thoughts turned towards combination with the majority, to the alarm of the English interest. Unfortunately for Irish democracy - so it was to prove - Ulster custom gave the Presbyterian tenant rights denied to his Catholic neighbour. Moreover, the starveling Catholic was often tempted to outbid the Presbyterian when leases came to be renewed. Selfish landlords thus had reasons for replacing Presbyterian by Catholic tenants. The natural resentment of the dispossessed occasionally found expression in outbursts of anti-Catholic violence.

More important at first, however, than such sectarian conflict, was the stream of Presbyterian emigration to New England, a stream set off by wholesale rent-raising in 1718. From their American havens of religious and political equality the exiles passed back democratic ideals to their kinsfolk in Ulster, and it was among these that Irish republicanism first took root. In the outcome sectarianism was to triumph in Ulster, and the story of Irish democracy is largely the story of the slow, agonising, but wondrous resurrection of the indomitable explosive older peasantry which, surmounting every obstacle, surviving every disaster, broke in succession sectarian tyranny, landlordism, and the entire English system in Ireland. The nation as a whole - including the non-Catholics - has benefited by the victory.

The episcopalian oligarchy had its own grievances and, once its fears of a Jacobite counter-revolution had been stilled, began to air them. Foremost among its champions was a Dublin-born Englishman, the immortal Jonathan Swift (16671745), who to personal disappointment added a bitter indignation against social wrong. His indignation was not, however, typical of episcopalian Protestants, and the oligarchy’s complaints were primarily concerned with its own pocket. The oligarchy’s venal, unrepresentative parliament had no real power. Neither had it a voice in appointments to the great offices of Church or State, which were filled with English-born nominees of the London government. In addition, Irish trade, largely in Protestant hands, was hampered by restrictions imposed in the interests of England. Towards the middle of the eighteenth century there began to emerge among the Protestants a Patriot Party which by 1770, under the leadership of Henry Grattan, was agitating in the name of the “Protestant Nation” for a 'Tree Constitution and freedom of trade”.

The rising tide of rebel successes in America prompted limited concessions (1774, 1778) to the Catholic middle class as well as to the few surviving Catholic landowners, and the admission (1780) of Nonconformists to public office. When France, Holland, and Spain joined in the American war against England, fear of invasion was added to the dread of risings by the Presbyterian and Catholic peasantry. England therefore consented to the raising of Protestant volunteers to defend the country. These the Patriot Party promptly employed to wring from her a relaxation of the restrictions on trade (1779) and the acknowledgement of legislative independence (1782). [45]

The Protestant colony now had its free parliament, “Grattan’s Parliament”, but that parliament had no control over Dublin government, which continued to be a junta manipulated from London. Moreover, the parliament was as venal as it was unrepresentative, and it resisted every attempt at electoral reform. It is true that the period of Grattan’s Parliament was one of great prosperity for the upper and middle classes. But the masses continued to be exploited in the same old evil way. Small wonder if tile Catholic peasantry proved indifferent to the fate of the legislature, or sought to defend itself against local tyrants by the Whiteboys, Defenders, and other terrorist societies. Small wonder if the competition for farms called forth rival secret societies among the Presbyterians.

In the meantime increasing agitation for parliamentary reform and for Catholic emancipation, and the spread of French and American republicanism, were turning the thoughts of the Dublin junta to complete union with Great Britain as the only hope of preserving the power and privileges of the Ascendancy. At the same time disagreements between the Dublin and London parliaments were awakening English fears for the link between the two kingdoms, fears which were magnified by the rapid growth of the Irish population and the outbreak of war with the French Republic (1793).

It was about this time that the democratic movement found a leader in Theobald Wolfe Tone, a young Protestant lawyer who had been attracted by the French doctrines of liberty and equality. In 1792 Tone became secretary of the Catholic Committee - a timid organisation for pleading the Catholic cause - and he helped it to secure the parliamentary vote for Catholics and other concessions (1793). In 1791 he and other Protestants, “interpreters of the new America and the new France”, founded in Belfast the Society of United Irishmen, a secret society for the promotion of a “brotherhood of affection, and a communion of rights, and a union of power among Irishmen of every religious persuasion”. It was the continued rejection of the demands for parliamentary reform and Catholic emancipation which turned the United Irishmen into a revolutionary organisation and sent Tone to France to seek the aid of the new republic there.

The United Irishmen had become particularly strong among the Presbyterians of Ulster. And yet it was now that sectarian feuds in the North began to come to a head with the “Battle of the Diamond” (Co. Armagh) and the foundation of the “Orange Order” pledged to maintain Protestant ascendancy.

In December 1796 Tone set sail from France with a large French army which was only prevented by ill luck from putting ashore in Bantry Bay. (A projected Franco-Dutch expedition was forestalled by the British naval victory at Camperdown the following year.) The Dublin junta now took steps to disarm the United Irishmen and to set off the threatened revolution at half-cock by provoking premature risings. Yeomanry and militia were let loose on the countryside to disarm the peasantry and to cow them by flogging, burning, torture, and other atrocities. In this way Ulster was substantially disarmed in 1797. Despite these set-backs, the Directory of the United Irishmen made plans for a national rising on 23 May of the following year, 4798, designating as commander of their forces gallant young Lord Edward FitzGerald, son of the Duke of Leinster and cousin of Charles James Fox (through whom he had made contact with the English republicans). The government, forewarned, seized the Leinster leaders, 12 March 1798, FitzGerald alone evading arrest. Nevertheless, on 24 May, sporadic, uncoordinated risings of poorly armed peasants took place in parts of Leinster and of north-east Ulster. Two days later the only formidable rising broke out - among the Old English peasantry of Wexford. Here too the insurgents displayed desperate courage, and the fighting lasted into July. Though the Wexfordmen had chosen a Protestant landlord to lead them, their rising was represented to Ulstermen as essentially a Catholic affair, and this contributed to the ultimate estrangement of Ulster from the democratic cause. [46]

The Rising also played into the hands of those who were bent on the Union. The entire oligarchy took fright. So, too, did the Catholic hierarchy, which had good reason to dislike Jacobinism. To make doubly sure of the hierarchy, the English Prime Minister, Pitt, let it be expected that a United Kingdom would grant Catholic emancipation, aboliish the payment of tithes to the minority State Church, and provide state salaries for bishops and parish priests. The Catholics of Dublin might protest as loudly as they would, and the Orange Order too, for there now remained but one obstacle to the Union, the oligarchy’s own parliament. And most of its votes were for sale! On 7 June 1800 the Act of Union was passed, and Henry VIII’s (and Pope Paul IVs) “Kingdom of Ireland” came to its shameful end on New Year’s Day, 1801. Simultaneously the Church of Ireland was united to the Church of England.

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The Rise of Irish Democracy, 1801-1921
The expectations of the Catholic bishops were disappointed, and Ireland’s entry into the United Kingdom had to be marked by renewal of the agitation for the emancipation of the majority. At this juncture Catholic Irish democracy found its first great leader in Daniel O’Connell, the Liberator. O’Connell, a Gael of the Gaels, found the Irish peasants slaves. He left them free men. The close of the Napoleonic wars brought widespread poverty, unemployment, and evictions. Partial famines in 1817 and in 1821-2 added to the misery of the fastincreasing population. The proud, harassed victims of landlordism knew but one means of self-defence: agrarian crime and counter-terror. The government knew but one cure for social ills: further oppression. And indeed from 1796 to 1837 the whole social-political fabric was sustained by an uninterrupted, official, reign of terror; the shadow of the gallows hung over every parish; the oligarchy snatched at every device, including sectarian strife, to retain its power.

It was under these conditions that O’Connell, aided by the parish clergy, set to disciplining the tortured explosive peasantry, to organising them within the law so that they might bring overpowering weight to bear on the law without risking the law’s brutality. He spoke to their hearts, and to their hearts they took him while he guided their steps in the tortuous, alien paths of constitutional agitation and English party politics. The first demonstration of their new-found manhood came at the Waterford election of 1826, when the electors, heedless of the vengeance of their landlords, returned a liberal Protestant. Two years later the peasants of Clare elected O’Connell himself. The law barred his entry to the House of Commons, but the Claremen sent him back a second time. And behind them stood the millions of Catholic peasants! The British Government capitulated; Catholic emancipation was grudgingly conceded in 1829. O’Connell’s victory automatically freed the Presbyterians from their civic and political disabilities. Nevertheless, by now anti-Papist agitators had worked their will on the instinctive fears of the Presbyterians, and the Liberator, whose struggle against oppression won the admiration and support of enlightened opinion everywhere else in Europe, was not welcome in Ulster.

By alliance with the Whigs O’Connell began to secure some measure of social justice for his people, including the ending of Protestant terrorism (1837). When, however, the Tories ousted the Whigs (1841) it quickly became clear that Ireland had little hope of even elementary social justice under the Union. O’Connell, spurred on by the rise of the Young Ireland movement, therefore embarked on a gigantic campaign for “Repeal of the Union”, i.e. for the setting up of an Irish legislature with limited powers. His efforts to overawe the Government by a series of “Monster Meetings” quickly raised national feeling to fever pitch, but the [47] Government called out troops and artillery to prevent what was to be the greatest meeting of all (8 October 1843). O’Connell called off the meeting to save his followers from slaughter. The Repeal movement collapsed. Four years later the Liberator was dead. [47]

For a brief space his place was taken by Young Ireland, a militant movement of romantic nationalist - Protestant and Catholic - whose Nation newspaper gave Ireland her first romantic, nationalist literature in the fast-spreading English tongue. At this stage the peasants were overwhelmed by catastrophe, the Famine of 1845-7. Hundreds of thousands perished of hunger and cholera; hundreds of thousands fled to penniless safety in Britain and America. Between 1845 and 1850 the population fell from 81 million to 61, and since that time the drain of emigration has never ceased. This disaster, the greatest of its kind ever to befall a European nation in a time of peace, was the final condemnation of the Union, and in 1848, a year of European revolutions, Young Ireland made a futile despairing effort at insurrection under the leadership of William Smith O’Brien, a Protestant aristocratic landlord of ancient Gaelic lineage. With this fiasco the Young Ireland movement in turn collapsed, but it passed on its ideal of the union of “Orange” and “Green” in a sovereign nation, a union symbolised by its republican tricolour flag - which today flies over twenty-six of the Irish counties.

While the Tories refused any substantial redress of Irish grievances, they did make some minor concessions, among them the Queen’s Colleges (1845) of Belfast, Cork, and Galway, designed to answer the Nonconformist and Catholic demands for university education. The Catholic bishops and O’Connell rejected the colleges as “Godless”, and only the Belfast foundation prospered. (In 1854 the bishops set up a Catholic University in Dublin with John Henry Newman as first rector. The British Government refused to recognise it, and in 1908 the surviving departments, together with the Queen’s Colleges of Cork and Galway, were absorbed into the new National University of Ireland.)

The four or five decades after the Famine saw continuing distress, with much rural unemployment and wholesale’evictions. The peasantry sought to defend themselves by their traditional terrorist combinations, only to provoke the inevitable Coercion Acts. To add its sectarian poison to the witch’s brew, the Orange Order had by now become firmly entrenched in the North. Nationalist efforts to secure moderate concessions by constitutional means continued to prove unavailing, and republicanism, aimed both at the abolition of the landlord system and at complete separation from Britain, raised its head once more. In 1858 exiles in America founded the Irish Republican, Brotherhood, a secret oathbound society dedicated to the principles of Wolfe Tone. Under the name “Fenians”, its members set about preparing for a revolution to which veterans of the American Civil War (in which Irish-born generals and soldiers had played brilliant and heroic parts on both sides) would make expert contributions. Though the movement succeeded in recruiting a great number of adherents, the rising (1867) was easily crushed. But the Irish Republican Brotherhood survived to organise the underground, physical-force arm of the later constitutional movement for land reform and Home Rule.

About this period the Irish cause found a noble English champion in Gladstone, whose liberal principles were grounded in a Christian sense of justice. In 1869 Gladstone disestablished the Protestant state church which, resuming its pre-Union name, Church of Ireland, has ever since governed itself. The following year he carried a Land Act ameliorating the peasants’ condition. That same year an Ulster Protestant lawyer, Isaac Butt, founded the Home Rule Association to press for Home Rule within the United Kingdom. In 1873 a strong Home Rule party entered the House of Commons. Four years later the leadership of the party passed to Charles Stewart Parnell, a young Protestant landlord from [48] Wicklow. Parnell proved to be the second great leader of Irish democracy. No suppliant pleading for favours, but a proud aristocrat asserting his people’s rights, his personality and tactics won the love and veneration of the nationalist majority. He had able lieutenants, most notable of them Michael Davitt, who in 1879 founded the Land League and forged the weapons of the boycott and “No Rent”. Under Parnell and Davitt the constitutional movement for peasant proprietorship and Home Rule filled the stage, with distress, evictions, and peasant violence supplying a lurid back-cloth. In the wings, ready to intervene should constitutional agitation fail yet again, stood the Irish Republican Brotherhood. In 1881 Gladstone, in alliance with Parnell’s Irish Party, carried an Act securing the tenant’s right to fixity of tenure and substantially reducing his rent. Even the landlords now began to see the wisdom of selling out to their tenants, and a series of later Land Acts (1887, 1891, 1903) effected the social revolution.

In 1885 Gladstone embarked on his last great crusade. His Home Rule Bill was, however, rejected by the House of Commons, and the Conservatives returned to power. In 1890 tragedy overtook Parnell: he was convicted of adultery. Gladstone’s Nonconformist supporters were shocked and he was compelled to refuse further cooperation with the Irish leader. The Irish nationalist movement thereupon split into two factions; and then Parnell died suddenly at the age of forty-five (1891). In 1892 Gladstone introduced his second Home Rule Bill, only to have it defeated in the House of Lords. In Ireland there followed a decade of political stagnation, during which the Irish Republican Brotherhood maintained its secret revolutionary organisation. In non-political fields, on the other hand, there were at this time many signs of renewed life. In 1893 the Gaelic League was founded to stem the rapid decay of the Irish language. About the same time a new generation of writers in English was beginning to write the most brilliant chapter in Anglo-lrish literature. About this time too, the ill-paid workers of the towns began to organise trade unions to protect themselves from exploitation. In 1899 Arthur Griffith began to propound the gospel of Sinn Féin (We Ourselves): passive resistance to British rule, the revival of Irish industry, and abstention from the Westminster Parliament. His aim was “government by the King, Lords, and Commons of Ireland”.

The return of the Liberals to power at Westminster in 1906 made Home Rule a live issue once more. In 1911 the power of the House of Lords was curtailed, and the way at last seemed clear for the third Home Rule Bill, which passed the Commons in 1912 and was due to come into effect in 1914. But the British and Irish opponents of Home Rule found a most effective leader in Sir Edward Carson, M.P. for Trinity College, Dublin. Carson worked on the fears of the Protestants, raised the Ulster Volunteers to resist the law, and named a “Provisional Government” which would take over Ulster if the Home Rule Act were put into operation. Nationalist Ireland countered these seditious illegalities by raising the Irish Volunteers “to secure and maintain the rights and liberties common to the whole people of Ireland”, the Irish Republican Brotherhood (which itself included Ulster Protestants) having a hidden hand in the business.

The outbreak of the First World War gave the British Government an excuse for putting the Home Rule Act into abeyance. Most Nationalists supported the “struggle for the freedom of Belgium and small nations”, but a minority, including the Republican Brotherhood, held aloof in anticipation of an opportunity to strike for Irish freedom. Among the Republican leaders were Patrick Pearse (Dublin-born son of an English father), James Connolly (leader of the Socialist wing of the tradeunion movement just then emerging from the testing fires of a series of great lockouts and strikes), and Bulmer Hobson (a. Belfast Quaker). In alliance with Connolly’s Irish Citizen Army, the Republican Brotherhood prepared for a widespread insurrection. The insurrection broke out on Easter Monday 1916, but was [49] more or less confined to Dublin, and was crushed in less than a week. But thirty months later a new (Sinn Féin) republican party swept the polls. The Sinn Féin members of parliament constituted themselves a national assembly (Dáil Éireann), ratified in the 1916 proclamation of the Irish Republic, and set up a “government” claiming de jure authority over the the whole island. Guerrilla warfare soon broke out between the Irish Republican Army and the forces of the Crown. In 1920 the British amended the Home Rule Act so as to establish two Irish parliaments with limited powers, one for the six north-eastern counties (“Northern Ireland”), the other for the remaining twenty-six counties (“Southern Ireland”) Dáil Éireann rejected this solution of the Irish Question and the struggle continued until the following year. Britain then improved her offer by conceding full Dominion Status to the “Twenty-six Counties” (“The Irish Free State”) while insisting on allegiance to the Crown and on the maintenance of the special position of the “Six Counties” as an integral part of the United Kingdom (but with a local parliament and government in control of agriculture, social services, education, police, &c.).

The partitioning of the country - and of Ulster itself - was hateful to Nationalist Ireland. There was strong dislike also of the British Crown. In the event, Dáil Éireann ratified the Anglo-Irish Treaty, but by so slender a majority that civil war proved inevitable. Peace finally came when the Republicans cached their arms (1923). As a part of the United Kingdom the “Six Counties” were actively involved in the Second World War, whereas the independent “Twenty-six Counties”, though at one in heart and principle with the democracies, remained neutral. But neutrality was no obstacle to prompt assistance for bombed Belfast, or to generous post-war succour for the hungry and homeless peoples of devastated Europe. In 1948 the “Twenty-six Counties” seceded from the British Commonwealth and became a sovereign republic calling itself “Ireland” (Éire in Irish). Thanks to its traditions of nationalism, democracy, and individual liberty, the republic has been able to play a valuable role in the councils and affairs of the United Nations, and this in turn would seem to have contributed to the post-war diminution of sectarianism in Northern Ireland and to improved relations between the Belfast and Dublin governments. In 1965, after more than forty years of aloofness, the two Irish premiers exchanged visits for the first time, and rational cooperation between North and South in matters of common concern may henceforth be expected, a cooperation made easier by the 1966 Free Trade agreement between Dublin and London.

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A Postscript
In May 1972, the Irish people voted by Referendum to join the European Economic Community (EEC/EU) as the British also did three years later. By then, however, the Northern “Troubles” had already started with attacks on Civil Rights marchers, notably at Burntollet when members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary and the Orange Order jointly assaulted peaceful demonstrators against social unjustice in the pre-dominantly Protestant state of Northern Ireland.. Instigating the attacks was Dr. Ian Paisley, the overtly-sectarian leader of the Free Presbyterian Church, founded by himself, who would spear-head the resistance of the loyalist movement against any accommodation with the Republic of Ireland for long decades to come – though ultimately be would accept the appointment of First Minister of the newly-formed Legislative Assembly in partnership with Martin McGuinness, a former commander of the IRA. With the Burntollet attack and subsequent assaults on Catholics and Nationalists in Northern Ireland cities, the IRA returned from the grave to defend the Catholic minority, causing the British government deploy the Army in the streets and to introduce Internment for suspected members and sympathisers with the IRA – a measure that backfired on account of its discriminatory character and equally because the ‘lists’ used to round up men were guided by the inaccurate and prejudicial views of the RUC. (the B Specials created to ‘police’ nationalism in Northern Ireland was disbanded in 1969.) In the ensuing decades of Direct Rule, a triangular war raged in the Province between the IRA, the Loyalists and the British Government with occasional interventions by the Irish Government – one, at least, an illegal attempt to supply arms to the IRA under the leadership of the Irish Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Charles Haughey. Only in the late 1980s did the prospect of ‘cease-fire’ and ‘Peace Agreement’ materials when John Hume, leader of the Socialist Democractic Labour Party, began to broker an agreement between the IRA, the British Government and the Loyalist Movement. The Troubles came to an end in April 1998 with the dramatic signing of the Belfast Agreement – otherwise called the Good Friday Agreement – which laid down the principal that Northern Ireland would remain in the British Union until a majority of its citizens voted against, and that each citizen of Northern Ireland could claim British or Irish citizenship or both, as they wished.

In the same period the economic relation between North and South altered radically. Whereas Northern Ireland had been by far the richer part of the country in the 1920s, it was three times poor in GNP by the 1990s A blue-print for the development of industry in the Republic had been created in the late 1950s with the foundation of the Irish Industrial Authority (IDA) and, with its entry into the European Union, Ireland became an attractive base for American manufacturers seeking to sell their products in Europe. Companies such as Dell and Pfizer, and later Google and Starbucks set up assembly plants in the late 1980s which soon became into major nodes in their corporate plans. The combination of European Regional Funds investment in the Irish infra-structure and the profitability of the new company and others down-stream transformed the economic profile of Irish society and created new wealth in many quarters. In 2008, in the wake of the global recession, a number of Irish investment banks failed – largely through mismanagement – and were bailed out by the Irish Government, effectively passing the multi-billion debt on to the Irish people. The austerity politics of the ensuring decade resulted in a rising tide of discontent but effectively launched the recovery of the economy. At the same time, the European Union began to demand that the Irish tax regime be reformed to eliminate preferential terms for overseas companies operating in the country. With the advent of Brexit in 2017, up to them co-members of the European Union and therefore subject to the same economic and judicial rulings, seem set to travel on different paths and face the risk of the re-reestablishment of a ‘hard’ border at Dundalk. Views differ as to the relative economic advantage to be gained on either side of that border but it seems certain that the change will result in a hardening of inter-community relations which have grown increasingly fluid since the Belfast Agreement.

Recent Irish history, North and South, has also seen a major shift in the social character of the respective states. While Northern Ireland has, form the most part, adhered to its traditional culture of loyalism and evangelism in  an arguably pathological spirit of conservatism informed by the fear and dislike of the threat of a United Ireland, the Republic has largely lost its character as a Roman Catholic state, with changes to the Constitution effecting the ‘special position’ of the Church and, most recently, the legalisation of ‘same sex’ marriage – a jubilant and surprising ‘first’ for Ireland among European nations. Irish people have generally embraced the European connection and the spirit of liberalism that was associated with it and the resort to the European Supreme Court for the arbitration of differences in social and economic opinion has become a common feature of the legal culture of the Republic. At the same time, the prohibition on abortion remains in place and it is not certain that the government or the population are willing and able to remove it even though it is regarded as the last bastion of Catholic conservatism. At the same time, the mood of Presbyterian Ulster is strongly opposed to abortion and that State enjoys an exemption from the Abortion Laws established in Britain in 1968. It is one of the oddities of the current political order in the United Kingdom that the Tory Government has maintained its majority in Parliament only by means of a ‘deal’ with the Democratic Unionist Party of Northern Ireland which strenuously opposes abortion and, of course, any accommodation with an All-Ireland political outlook. Yet British MPs have driven through laws ensuring that women travelling from Northern Ireland to Great Britain for abortions will now enjoy the full financial support of the Welfare State embodied by the National Health Service. Meanwhile, the Northern Ireland Assembly at Stormont is suspended since the two main parties involved – DUP and Sinn Féin – are unable to form a joint administration and, in the vacuum, direct rule is once again threatened, with disabling consequences for the budgetary management of crucial sectors such as health, security and education. [BS]

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