|Organisation:||Friends of the Union|
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I’ve been hoping for some time now that we might get some Unionist leftish material for the Archive - I’m thinking in particularly of PUP documents, but sadly that has yet to come to pass. In the meantime let us consider this, which while not precisely left wing does give an insight into the views of some unionists and their supporters in Britain as regards left wing thinking on the issue of partition.
Friends of the Union was established in 1986 as a sort of lobby group to push the concept of the Union by 16 Conservative Mps and a number of peers. It was formally disbanded in 2006. There’s a useful profile here of its approach, history and activities and what is most striking is the manner in which it brought together a raft of names familiar to us on the CLR. Also of interest is that the piece linked to above notes a leak of a draft Framework Document during the peace process.
With such a right-wing complexion, it’s hardly surprising that a document such as the ‘The Green and the Red: The influence of the Ultra left on the situation in Northern Ireland’ might be published. In it’s first edition - the one available above in PDF form the author is unacknowledged, indeed in an introduction ‘About The Author’ it is stated, ‘The Author has been a student of International affairs, for many years, with a special interest in terrorism and subversion’. Curiously later editions noted that the author was one Ian Greig, who had produced across decades works such as “They mean what they say : a compilation of Soviet statements on ideology, foreign policy, and the use of military force” and “The Ultra-Left offensive against multinational companies : Moscow’s call for world trade union unity”.
The contents of the pamphlet therefore makes great play of putative links with Moscow and from an early stage as in the section on ‘A Mission to Moscow: Saor Eire: The New Congress Party’. And a further section ‘The Soviet Attitude’ attempts, somewhat unconvincingly to suggest that the Soviet Union in the late 1980s was becoming more open to the Provisional IRA.
There’s a short overview of British left wing groups and their support for PIRA, but in truth this reads more like a compendium of the issues that exercise conservative opinion than significant linkages.
The Friends of the Union website is now defunct, but you can access pages and documents from it here , as well as a most interesting essay by Michael Squires entitled Why Democratic Socialists should support the Union .
This is, in its own way, equally as interesting as the document above. He argues that:
The policy of the Labour Party is to seek a United Ireland by consent. It is a policy which is a contradiction in terms because the Unionists will never consent to a United Ireland. In this short statement, I shall seek to explain why pro-Union supporters are right to resist a United Ireland and, importantly, why support for the Union would not be incompatible with the aims of the Labour Party.
Whilst U.K. Goverments at Westminster have remained nominally in charge of Northern Ireland, they have failed to give its citizens the same political rights that exist on the mainland of Great Britain. I shall not to seek to explain away or apologise for the Stormont years; that it was a creation of Lloyd George’s government in 1920 to keep Northern Ireland’s affairs out of Westminster. By its very nature, it was bound to be sectarian; how different events could have been had Parliament accepted Carson’s advice in 1920 when he pleaded for Ulster to be “brought every day closer and closer and closer to this country…” that would have meant the Union being a two-way commitment; Stormont was merely a way of having a one way commitment.
Naturally great emphasis is placed on the welfare state - something that sits uneasily, one presumes with most other ‘Friends of the Union’ given their political provenance.
Despite not having equal political rights, the people of Northern Ireland do have equality in the field of Social Security…However, the inference that the greater expenditure per head in the North is as a result of the British “subsidy” or “subvention” is wide of the mark. Any benefits in the social welfare and health fields come about as a result of Northern Ireland’s membership of the United Kingdom; they accrue because the people of Northern Ireland have a legal right to those services and, as such, are no different to the population on the mainland of Great Britain.
And then we learn more…
Another difference which has been highlighted is the status of women in Northern Ireland and the Republic. The Labour Party has been in the forefront of the campaign to make life better for women; not all its efforts have been successful but two areas are worthy of consideration, divorce and family planning… The Republic has often been referred to as a male-dominated society where women are mere chattels; Socialists should therefore be aware of the difference in the status of women-highlighted because of the Union.
The Roman Catholic Church, in Ireland, comes in for some criticism.
One nation where the Catholic Church did line itself up with a right-wing dictatorship was Spain. Franco, in overthrowing a democratically elected government, received the support of Nazi Germany, Italy and the Catholic Church. The Donegal Democrat acknowledged the internal alliance by commenting, “If the vast majority of the Spanish people did not regard him as a saviour of their Catholic heritage they would have dethroned him long ago”. In addition to Spain, there were also the examples of Italy and Austria-Catholic States where democratically elected governments were overthrown and replaced with dictatorships that could have only survived with support from Nazi Germany and the Catholic Church. The European experience therefore leads us to a link between right wing dictatorships and Catholicism -that is, in countries where a dominant Church felt threatened.
And what of this terrifying prospect?
This brings us back to Ireland. Because of its geographical position, the Catholic Church in Ireland has not had to live with the pluralist strands of Western Europe; even Catholic states on the European mainland are now more pluralist than ever before - either through a natural breaking down of barriers or invasion during the second world war. The difficulties of trying to live with one million Protestants might cause a very nasty reaction indeed. I am referring, of course, to the possibility of a military, Catholic Church backed, take-over in Dublin. The knock-on reaction of the Protestants - who would see a Catholic faith being imposed by force - would be predictable.
Although in Britain he is clear to suggest the situation is different…
None of this applies to the English Catholic Church - a very progressive body which is responsive to the needs of its community. It takes its place as a genuine part of a pluralist society; the fact that its members line up with differing ideological traditions is evidence of its role in the wider community.
The problem for the Labour Party is that they have always regarded Unionists as “Orange Tories” but nothing could be further from the truth. Indeed, the one man who pursued policies that would have been highly acceptable at Labour Party conferences was Lord Brookeborough. He had a favourite phrase - “You must always be a Unionist first and a Conservative second” - and in the post-war period, Brookeborough’s interventionist policies brought this reaction from an independent Unionist: “The Bill is … One hundred per cent Socialism and not Unionism”.
I’ve been unable to determine who Michael Squires was or is, but as with ‘The Green and the Red’ it gives a clear insight into a certain and very specific view of the world.