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A separate entity

WILLIAM McCoy a former cabinet minister in the Stormont government, had what his friends and opponents in that parliament called his 'hobby horse'. He consistently argued for what he described as 'Dominion Status' for Ulster. Under this system, the British monarch would remain as head of state, but the country would be politically independent. At the time he first advocated this step, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and India were self-governing dominions. Ulster would have had a seat at Commonwealth conferences on a place of equality with these other states.

McCoy took the view that Ulster could one day become expendable to a future Westminster government. He had no wish to see Ulster become the shuttlecock of Europe. However, he was over-ruled by his blinkered Unionist Party cabinet colleagues. Various proposals which he put forward were ignored, dismissed or put on the long finger never to see the light of day again.

The release of Stormont cabinet records in January exposed the short-sightedness and complacency which was typical of the Unionist regime. These people were not so much the malevolent nazi-like plotters of Irish republican mythology as a bunch of incompetent clowns. Lord Brookborough, the Prime Minister, used to leave the country for months at a time. It is little surprise that this bunch made so poor a fist of almost everything they did.

In 1959, Eric Montgomery of the government information service sent the Unionist cabinet a memorandum entitled 'Are we Irish, Northern Irish or Ulster?' Mr Montgomery wrote that in his view it was, 'a great mistake ever to have included the word Ireland in the title of our new state when it was set up in 1921.

'It link; us forever with the South and with a stage-Irish interpretation of our character of which we feel ashamed' The memorandum favoured the official use of the term Ulster for the six-county area. According to Mr Montgomery this would help to emphasise 'the idea that we are a separate and quite distinct entity.' We agree. Many of this memo's arguments are still valid.

We are not so sure about another suggestion that St Patrick's Day should be quietly dropped in favour of Ulster Day, (September 28 ). We agree of course that Ulster Day should continue to be celebrated but St Patrick was greatly linked with Ulster. Most of his ministry took place in Ulster and that should be a source of pride (or perhaps humble thankfulness) for all Ulsterfolk. Perhaps the American-style paddy whackery that has surrounded St Patrick's Day for many years had alienated Montgomery. This is understandable but unfortunate. St Patrick is an historical figure that can hold the allegiance of all Ulsterfolk Protestant and Catholic alike.

The Montgomery memorandum, which if acted upon could have officially and legally renamed 'Northern Ireland' as Ulster, was buried and forgotten after the commerce minister in the unionist cabinet, Brian Faulkner, objected to conceding the term 'Irish' to the Republic. His position was surely a lost cause - even in 1959. If these people has been a bit more far-sighted on this and other issues we could have avoided a lot of the bitterness and confusion of the past quarter of a century. The trouble with the Unionist Party was that it was unable to look beyond its own short term interests. Has much changed today?

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