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"The two communities in the north, however deeply divided by religion, share an outlook on life which is different from that prevailing in the south and which bears the stamp of a common heritage" E. Estyn Evans, The Personality of Ireland.
LIKE MANY other nations, Ulster's border, territory and population has dramatically shifted and changed over the centuries. The current Northern Ireland state was established by the Government of Ireland Act, 1920. Consisting of six counties - Antrim, Armagh, Down, Fermanagh, Londonderry and Tyrone - its population of one and a half million inhabits an area of some 5,237 square miles. Prior to this Ulster included counties Cavan, Donegal and Monaghan. However, our national territory at times stretched as far south as the Boyne valley.
Given our bloody history, one cannot ignore the fact that territory - and our populations religious make-up - is the core issue to many folk. So what about our independent Ulster - where will its border be? Would its territory reflect exactly that of Northern Ireland - or would it perhaps be nearer that of the nine county 'historic' Ulster. Or maybe something in between? And what would be its religious make-up be?
This has already been a matter of some debate in Ulster Nation. Open Forum (UN 20) noted that an independent Ulster might not include areas like Crossmaglen. In the letters page of UN 21, one Donegal-based reader wanted the county to be included in a new Ulster whilst another reader thought that we couldn't "hold" South Armagh. Our guest book also includes several letters concerning our national territory. One problem for Ulster-nationalists is that this view of 'our' and 'their' areas is deeply ingrained in many of our folk - both Protestant and Roman Catholic. It has its roots in various doomsday trends of thought which puts all Roman Catholics in the IRA and brands all Protestant as reactionary orange unionists. Some Protestants feel that because the inhabitants of areas like South Armagh are perceived wholly to be Republicanism that they should be abandoned to the Republic. For Ulster-nationalists one problem with this trend of thought is where do you stop? Once South Armagh is lost do we abandon all areas west of the Foyle, parts of West Tyrone, Fermanagh and South Down? Would West Belfast become part of the Republic - just as West Berlin was part of, yet isolated from, the old West Germany during the Cold war?
If we specifically followed the Protestant doomsday scenario and abandoned all Roman Catholic territory we'd be left with County Antrim and most of Counties Londonderry and Down as well as the north of County Armagh. And for how long? Such a land would be very small, possibly unworkable and unstable. The whole notion of getting rid of Roman Catholic areas stinks of some sort of fanatical ultra-Protestant version of a wholly Protestant state. Independence is not about establishing a Protestant state for a Protestant people but should bring about a state for all of our people together under a common agreed and unifying identity. Independence should be about reconciling our long-suffering people - making us all realise that we have more in common with one another than with those to whom we currently claim allegiance - the British and the Irish states. An independent Ulster should be about ending British/Irish, Roman Catholic/Protestant and unionist/nationalist division in our land. This is our vision - and dream - of an independent Ulster. But could it come about? Surely our population is made up of two warring monoliths - Protestant unionism and Roman Catholic republicanism?
Is there any evidence to support a third way; a political identity that views itself as neither British or Irish? John Darby's book, Scorpions in a Bottle, provides us with some revealing statistics which give us hope for a better future. A survey showed that between 1989-1994 between 26 and 29% of Protestants described their identity as being either 'Ulster or Northern Irish' as opposed to the conventional 'British'. Similarly, between 25 to 28% of Roman Catholics described their identity as 'Northern Irish' rather than 'Irish'. These findings show that there is more than just two religions, two identities, two traditions and two communities here.
There is a third identity and that identity is the non-divisive NI/Ulster identity itself. Approximately one quarter of our \par population positively identify themselves as NI/Ulster rather than with the divisive and conflicting British and Irish labels. This can transcend the religious divide in our land - a feat which British or Irish identities cannot ever realistically achieve.
Such views need to be taken into account but regrettably they are disenfranchised as there is as yet no mass movement articulating their aspirations. Vested interests can therefore perpetuate the myth that there are only two identities in our homeland. Radical Ulster-nationalists will have to work hard to articulate the views of this group of people. Ideas which cannot be said to favour Protestants over Roman Catholics or Roman Catholics over Protestants. They threaten no-one. We can unite the vast majority of our people to pledge allegiance to a new Ulster with a new loyalty - not to Leinster House nor to Westminster but to the Ulster nation and the institutions of a new agreed Ulster six-county state. Unionists forget that the Empire is gone and the Union is no more - the Scots and Welsh get their respective parliament and assembly later this year. Unreconstructed fenians like Republican Sinn Féin can never drag an unwilling Protestant population into their utopian Éire Nua. Ulster independence is our best hope for uniting our people, leaving past differences behind us and taking us all forward into a new future where all our people can feel at ease with one another, our identity and the institutions and symbols of the new state. (Statistics from Social Attitudes Survey, compiled by K. Trew, 1996).
John Jenkins and Andy C
A THIRD WAY FOR ULSTER
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