The Union under seige

Bobbie Heatley reviews British Government Policy in Northern Ireland 1969 — 2000 by Michael Cunningham, Manchester University Press, £13.99 pbk

SINCE THE ‘Troubles’ broke out again in the ‘sick’(six) counties and spilled over into Britain there has been a plethora of books about the north of Ireland. Without prejudice to the enlightenment of anyone, a great many of these could have been returned to sender by the publishers.

Fortunately, this is not one of these, and not only because it is concerned with the most important element of the conflict — British government policy. It is worth having because of its objectivity and the service it provides in recording this key element of the protracted 30-year problem.

The author is aware that the result of his researches, based on available published material, is not the last word on the subject. Only in years to come, he notes, may much behind the scenes interacting between the political contenders become available to complete comprehension.

He points out that, despite the changes of governments (British) during the period, and alterations of nuance in the tactical sense, strategy (i.e. ultimate objective) has remained remarkably consistent. From the day that Stormont was prorogued and direct rule introduced, in 1972, the unflinching aim, by the Tories and Labour alike, has been to achieve a situation whereby devolution could be re-introduced. There was effectual unanimity on a bi-partisan basis that whatever had to be done to shore up British rule would be done. It was done.

Each government’s approach to constitutional, social, economic and security policy is clinically examined so that the reader is able to see how the pieces meld into the one grand plan for pacification and revived devolution based on a so-called ‘middle-ground’ of political alignment involving a cosmetically reformist unionism, still ardently British, and an Irish ‘post-nationalist’ SDLP.

The underlying idea has been to preserve British rule substantially intact, remove Ireland from the Westminster arena again and appease middle-class Catholicism in the north. In addition, the British policy has aimed to mollify international critics, Irish-American in particular, by ‘tarting-up’ the structures of repression.

These sections of the book are particularly germane given the uncertainties surrounding the legislative outcome of the current Criminal Justice Review and although the author himself does not spell out as starkly as I have done the book’s ‘ingredients’ they are clearly discernible from the text.

With the achievement of the Good Friday agreement matters have not gone the way that the British would have liked. The concession of interim democratic reforms, with a potential to evolve into the national democratic reform of a re-united Ireland, go far beyond what had been envisaged by successive British governments.

<< | Up | >>

This document was last modified by David Granville on 2002-10-02 15:07:54.
Connolly Association, c/o RMT, Unity House, 39 Chalton Street, London, NW1 1JD
Copyright © 2002 Connolly Publications Ltd