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David Kerr gave this interview to Christian Bouchet from the French journal, Nouvelle Resistance, in September 1994, six weeks after the Provisional IRA called their ‘cessation of military operations’ and a month before the Combined Loyalist Military Command ceasefire came into effect. It was published before Mr Kerr and former members of smaller pro-independence groups joined the Ulster Independence Movement in 1995. Some of Mr Kerr’s more pessimistic concerns have not yet happened, and – we hope – will never happen. We are republishing this interview unchanged because we believe that it is an interesting milestone in the development of the Ulster-nationalist movement.
The Ulster Independence Movement is now defunct as a political party. Ulster Nation is now the journal of radical Ulster-nationalism. Editorially, it supports Ulster Third Way, an organisation that registered as a political party in February 2001. Ulster Third Way contested the West Belfast parliamentary seat in the 2001 general election and hopes to field three candidates in the May 2003 Assembly elections.
What is Ulster Nation?
Ulster Nation is a radical Ulster nationalist organisation, which evolved from the old Ulster National Front. It is linked to the Third Way movement in Great Britain. We seek to promote and encourage the reawakening of Ulster's distinct national identity. Traditionally, most Ulsterfolk believed that the Union with Great Britain was a safeguard for their freedom, heritage, culture and way of life. Fewer believe this now.
How long have people been arguing for Ulster independence?
As long ago as 1946 W F McCoy, a former cabinet minister in the unionist government, advocated this option. He wanted Northern Ireland to become the Dominion of Ulster with a political system similar to New Zealand, Australia or South Africa, or indeed the Irish Free State prior to 1937. Some members of the Ulster Vanguard movement in the early 1970s published similar arguments, most notably Professor Kennedy Lindsay. He later founded the British Ulster Dominion Party but it faded into obscurity around 1979. Glenn Barr, a Vanguard Assemblyman and a UDA leader described himself in 1973 as ‘an Ulster nationalist’. The successful strike in 1974, (which was directed by Barr), was later described by the British minister Merlyn Rees as an ‘outbreak of Ulster nationalism’. Firm proposals for an independent Ulster were produced in 1976 by the Ulster Loyalist Central Co-ordinating Committee and in 1977 by the UDA's New Ulster Political Research Group. The NUPRG document, Beyond the Religious Divide has been recently republished with a new introduction. In the 70's and 80's there were a number of small groups who met and discussed issues of cultural and national identity. This led to the publication of such books as The Identity of Ulster and Ulster the Hidden History, which have captured the imagination of many Ulsterfolk.
The Hillsborough Pact, which was signed in 1985 by the Westminster and Leinster House regimes, made some former unionists realise that the Union with Great Britain was effectively dead. They had formerly believed that the British government would protect them against the campaign of attrition, which had been waged against them by the IRA and INLA. They came to
realise that the British could not be relied upon and that only Ulsterfolk would have the will to protect their own country. Groups such as the Ulster Independence Committee, the Ulster Movement for Self-Determination and the Ulster National Front began to grow in size and political influence.
The MSD now seems to have closed down. The UIC, now called the Ulster Independence Movement, is a bourgeois nationalist organisation similar to the French Front National. Ulster Nation represents the radical Ulster nationalist cause.
What is your view of unionism and loyalism?
I have been brought up in the unionist/loyalist tradition. My father is an Orangeman. My late mother was a member of the Unionist Party for many years. However, unionism is dead as a political philosophy. It is not possible to maintain a Union with another party when that party is unwilling to do anything to actively maintain and promote that Union. Most unionists have yet to come to terms with this dilemma. Loyalism, which is more militant, is slightly more coherent, but its loyalty is to symbols - the Crown, the Protestant religion - which are no longer as potent as they once were. It is for this reason that Ulster-nationalism has emerged from within the ranks of former loyalists and unionists. Nationalism is about a people cherishing and maintaining the things that they have in common and over which they can exercise control. It does not look to others for salvation and protection as has been traditionally the case with unionism and loyalism.
What is your view of Irish republicanism?
Irish republicanism is another political philosophy that has had its day. Traditional republicans refuse to accept the institutions of the Anglo-Irish Treaty, which set up both Irish states in 1921. However, the southern state has the confidence of over 98% of its citizens. Even Provisional Sinn Féin has now recognised the state and participates in elections and has pledged to take seats in Leinster House if any of its candidates are elected. Only the few elderly diehards of Republican Sinn Féin espouse traditional republicanism. In Ulster the Provisional republican movement knows that the overwhelming majority of people do not want to live in an all-Ireland state. The IRA has sought to thwart this by a campaign of murder and destruction over the past twenty-five years. Their political wing has not sought to gain support for their aims amongst the population as a whole but only to maximise support within the Catholic population. They cannot achieve their aims by persuasion so they have tried coercion. The main victims of their campaign over the years have not been ‘British imperialism’ but Ulster Protestants. Currently they are involved in an Irish Pan-Nationalist Front with the SDLP, the Dublin government and some members of the Catholic hierarchy to get the British government to coerce so-called ‘consent' to some form of Irish unity. The present ceasefire is a tactical move in their campaign to achieve their sectarian pan-nationalist objectives.
What was the significance of the British and Irish Communist Organisation in the development of political thinking in Ulster?
Very significant. BICO published a large number of pamphlets and magazines, which argued that there is not ‘one historic Irish nation' cruelly rent asunder by Britain's partition of Ireland but two Irish nations. Partition was not the cause of this division but its effect. This explanation enraged commentators, the leftist-liberal media and especially the orthodox left and the ultra leftist sects. It gave a coherent political explanation for the national conflict in Ireland. It was not as the republicans claimed the historic Irish nation against British imperialism but a conflict between two nations on the island. BICO's pamphlets have been very influential amongst former unionists and for a time some elements in loyalist paramilitary circles. Some commentators have suggested that Glenn Barr was influenced by BICO although he was never a member. It has certainly been a big influence on me. BICO has been succeeded today by the Ingram Society and Athol Books, which continues to promote its interpretation of Ulster history and politics.
Is an independent Ulster a first step in the direction of a federalist Ireland?
An independent Ulster would want to be a good neighbour. We would like to have trade and co-operation with Eire. Any cross-border bodies would be on the basis of equality of status for each government. There is no point in winning political independence only to hand it over again to some higher federal structure. I could see both governments co-operating as equals in some future European confederal structure.
Are you optimistic of success?
Frankly, no! I believe that the current manoeuvres of the British, Irish and American governments are designed to trundle Ulster into an All-Ireland state. I fear massive reaction from loyalist paramilitary groups will lead to a fierce civil war in which many thousands of lives will be lost. Only an independent Ulster with autonomy for distinct communities can prevent this outcome. The present ceasefire is not in my view the beginning of lasting peace but the prelude to an intensification of the war for Ulster's survival. I hope I'm wrong on this and that common sense will prevail. Time will tell. However, in the meantime Ulster Nation's work of political education and activity continues. Even if an All-Ireland State does come into being there will still be an Ulster independence movement.
A THIRD WAY FOR ULSTER
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