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Silence over Ulster -
thoughts on the 1992 Westminster general election

The general election has come and gone with yet another victory for the Conservative Party. Despite the often vicious rhetoric and personal abuse which was hurled about during the campaign, there was a remarkable consensus on three important issues. These were the issues that did not get in the papers or on radio and television Europe, Race and Ulster! This was probably the last election before the implementation of the Single European Act which will transfer much of Westminster's sovereignty to Brussels, yet little was made of this in the campaign. It didn't seem to matter. When a Scots Tory candidate raised the question of citizenship in the SNP's vision of an independent Scotland, he was disowned by his own party and denounced briefly by the other parties. The embarrassing matter was then swept under the carpet. Virtually no-one looked to see if the man had a point.

absolute silence

As far as Ulster was concerned the silence was absolute in Great Britain. The Labour Party had a paragraph tucked away in a corner of its manifesto promising to bring about a 'united Ireland' by consent. How this consent would be won was not mentioned. It didn't really matter as nobody reads manifestos anyway! The Conservative Party actually fought eleven Ulster seats after giving in to pressure from supporters who wanted to be members of a real party of government. However, when it came to electioneering, the enthusiastic would-be Ulster Tories were left on their own. They got little or no help from Conservative Central Office or from leading members of the party. The likes of Major, Patten and Heseltine kept well clear. It was clear that no party wanted to make an issue over the situation in Ulster. Even the Tories' customary jibes that Labour are soft on terrorism disappeared. The fact is that terrorism is still going on in Ulster and in Great Britain as it has done throughout the past thirteen years of Tory rule. The low-intensity war of attrition which has raged for over twenty three years in what is supposed to be an integral part of the United Kingdom might as well be happening in Kuwait. In fact, Kuwait is probably higher up in successive governments' list of priorities. The establishment parties' consensus has been to keep Ulster at arm's length, to make soothing noises at intervals and to contain political violence to an `acceptable level'.

hypocrisy

As I write, there is a great row in progress over Libya's reluctance to hand over two of its citizens to Britain of the USA for trial on charges connected with the Lockerbie massacre. Libya is expected to disregard its own laws, international law and the fact that it has no extradition treaty with either the US or the UK and hand over these two men to what amounts to a lynch mob or suffer the consequences! Meanwhile, the Irish Republic harbours numerous wanted IRA suspects but this is politely overlooked by British governments. The United States took over ten years before it returned the convicted IRA killer Joe Doherty to Ulster. Why has Britain not sought sanctions against these states? This reeks with the stench of hypocrisy. Ulsterfolk are in no doubt that our lives count for little in the eyes of 'our' government.

natives can't be trusted

Despite its formal position as a full part of the United Kingdom entitled to send seventeen MPs to Westminster, Ulster has been governed for the last twenty years like a old-fashioned colony where the natives can't be trusted. The links between this part of the United Kingdom and Great Britain are gradually being loosened. On the other hand, since the Hillsborough Pact was signed the Dublin government has been awarded a formal role in this undemocratic colonial set-up. If regular elections are any guarantee of genuine democracy, then Ulster would be one of the most democratic places on earth! In the past decade there have been three Westminster general elections, one Stormont Assembly election, two European Assembly elections, two local government elections and the series of bye-elections which served as a referendum on the Hillsborough Pact. It hasn't made any difference. After his recent election victory, East .Londonderry MP William Ross declared his intention to fight in Parliament to maintain and strengthen the Union. The man is deluding himself and his followers! A recently published book, Self-determination? by Richard Cameron, caustically noted that, [Television] "debates concerning Ulster show dramatically the true scope of its interest in our affairs with only half-a-dozen MPs in attendance and most of them there by mistake! The acres of green leather clearly visible on television screens throughout Ulster has shown loyalists in fairly bleak terms just how much support they have. Far from the unionist MPs being treated with respect and being able to influence government policy towards Ulster, everyone now knows that their representatives are ignored and treated with contempt by English MPs. The pompous and preposterous boast of unionist parliamentarians that the House of Commons is a hallowed sanctum where reasoned argument and debate will sway the opinion of the so-called 'honourable' members is obvious trash." It is also important to add that the new paramilitary offensive by the pro-unionist UFF and UVF against the republican movement and sections of the Catholic population will do nothing to keep Ulster British. The Anglo-British establishment is no more worried by the deaths of Ulster Catholics at the hands of the UFF than it is at the deaths of Ulster Protestants at the hands of the IRA.

a lost cause

Ulster unionism is an already lost cause but there is a danger that its death throes could drag Ulster down with it. It is time for any thoughtful members and supporters of the unionist parties to reassess the situation. The Union is dead. The only options open now are either to allow Ulster's absorption into a unitary All-Ireland state or to seek independence for Ulster.

David Kerr

This article first appeared in Third Way magazine issue 12, 1992.

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