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Northern Ireland


This article was written at the request of John Wilson Foster, editor of a 'Critical Forum' published in the Honest Ulsterman. It appeared in the Honest Ulsterman, No.86, Spring/Summer 1989. It consists largely of a polemic against John Hume and his party, the SDLP and includes a response from an SDLP spokesperson, Sean Farren.

The New Ireland Forum defined the political problems of Northern Ireland in terms of three sets of relationships: the relationship between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland; the relationship between Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland; and the relationship between Ireland and Great Britain. There is a crucial relationship left out of the list, and that is the relationship between Northern Ireland and Great Britain. In my view it is the key to the whole problem.

The great majority of people living in Northern Ireland wish to remain within the United Kingdom. If we are to believe the evidence of every opinion poll that has been taken since the beginning of the troubles, this is a majority that is much greater than the Protestant majority. It is very doubtful if even a majority of Catholics in Northern Ireland seriously want a united Ireland. The most we can say for sure is that the majority of Catholics do not feel strongly opposed to the idea of a united Ireland - preferably at some time in the future. Or that, unlike the Protestants, the Catholic population would not organise to resist incorporation into a united Ireland.

Yet the Anglo-Irish Agreement is based on the premise that northern Catholics see the Dublin government as their legitimate representatives. This is also the basic premise behind the idea of a 'condominion' that has been the consistent basis of all John Hume's political activity since it was expressed clearly in Towards a New Ireland, the policy statement with which the SDLP entered into the Sunningdale negotiations. The idea is that Northern Ireland should have two governments - Westminster for the Protestants, Dublin for the Catholics. The Union Jack and the Tricolour, with all their respective accoutrements, would be equally honoured as official national symbols. We would not, however, be represented either in Westminster or Dublin. Mark that. It is very important. We would have a devolved power-sharing legislature which would be responsible to a commission jointly appointed by the 'two sovereign governments' (a phrase of which John Hume is fond). This commission would have something like the powers that the Secretary of State had under the Sunningdale Agreement. One minor detail: Westminster would foot the whole bill.

When the Executive was set up under the Sunningdale Agreement, the SDLP ministers behaved as far as possible as if it was operating under a condominion. They constantly referred to the southern government and they attached very great importance to the formal sovereignty given to the southern government (albeit in minor matters) in the proposed Council of Ireland. But the idea was not abandoned after the fall of the Executive. It it the only thing that makes sense of Gerry Fitt's objections to the increase of Northern Ireland's representation at Westminster from twelve to seventeen seats. Remember that Towards a New Ireland didn't want us represented at Westminster at all.

Gerry Fitt constantly tells us that he is more a socialist than a nationalist. A socialist - least of all a member of a Social Democratic and Labour Party - could not possibly object to a more equitable representation in Parliament. And the SDLP had the less reason to object given that the rearrangement was clearly going to be done in such a way as to benefit them (at that time the major splitting of the Catholic vote by Sinn Fein was not predicted). Yet not only was the move passionately opposed by Fitt, but it was one of the main reasons why he failed to support the Labour government in the crucial vote of confidence of 1979. The government lost by one vote. The socialist Gerry Fitt can therefore be said to have inaugurated the rule of Margaret Thatcher, so important it was to him that Northern Ireland should not have fairer representation at Westminster.

The New Ireland Form Report proposes, as we all know, three solutions to our problems: a joint authority (i.e., a condominion), a federal Ireland and a unitary state. Owing to the insistence of Charles Haughey a preference is expressed for a unitary state. But this is a conclusion that is unrelated to the main body of the text, which is an argument for a condominion. It is an argument that the aspirations of nationalists should be given equal - not superior - status to those of unionists. This can only be possible under a condominion. So long as Northern Ireland is in the United Kingdom, no matter how many kinks are knocked into the system, the aspiration of the unionists to remain in the United Kingdom has superior status over the aspiration of the nationalists to leave it. But if Northern Ireland is in a united Ireland then it is the nationalist aspiration that predominates. The two can only be equal under a condominion. That is the only thing John Hume can have in mind when he insists that all he wants for nationalists is equality of status with unionists.

Hume has frequently described the Anglo-Irish Agreement as only the first stage of a 'process'. The Agreement is a formal recognition by the government that the Dublin government can speak on behalf of the nationalist population of Northern Ireland, which it identifies with the Catholic population. It is a huge step forward in principle even if it yields very little in practice. But it is still far short of equality for the nationalist aspiration. The process still has a long way to go.

Of one thing we can be certain. The end of this process is not a devolved power-sharing legislature within the United Kingdom. The SDLP showed in 1974 that it attaches more importance to realising the nationalist aspiration than it does to advancing the interests of the Catholic population within Northern Ireland. For John Hume, the involvement of the southern government is more important than a position of power for the SDLP; and a position of power for the SDLP is of no value if it is not a means of further involving the southern government. From his point of view, the Anglo-Irish Agreement is better than a power-sharing devolved government.

I have drawn all that out at length because I have never seen the connection between the 1972 policy statement Towards a New Ireland and the Anglo-Irish Agreement stated clearly by any of our g political commentators. Joint authority and the subtle distinctions to be drawn between joint authority and joint sovereignty were among the ideas that floated freely about the airwaves at the time of the New Ireland Forum, but I still don't think their importance and relevance to the Anglo-Irish Agreement have been fully appreciated. Northern Ireland is not a democracy. Our government is not responsible to ourselves as electors. And the same government takes every possible opportunity to insist on the temporary, ad hoc nature of our present constitutional arrangements. In these circumstances, a daring will and the ability to think strategically count for much more than they do in a stable democracy. In my opinion, the only two elements in our political life who possess these virtues are John Hume (who may be distinguished in this respect from the rest of the SDLP) and the leadership of the Republican movement (since the 'Officials' became the Workers Party we may surely dispense with the prefix 'Provisional'). Their thinking is therefore of disproportionate importance.

In this case the disproportion is enormous. I do not have the figures to hand but I believe that 'joint authority', or whatever phrase was used, attracted something like 2% support in the most recent MORI poll. Doubtless had it been described as 'equality of status between unionists and nationalists' it would have attracted more - as power sharing between Protestants and Catholics in the abstract always does well, while any concrete proposal for achieving it usually does badly. It is part of John Hume's strategy to keep his argument as abstract as possible. The Anglo-Irish Agreement is designed to accommodate a desire for a united Ireland which I believe is strongly felt by only a minority of the Catholic population. Of that minority it is probably only a further and yet smaller minority that feel any sense of identification with or affection for the Dublin government; and the minority which supports the aim of the Agreement as envisaged by its chief architect, is minimal. Nonetheless, although I think it would be too strong to say that a majority of Catholics support the Agreement or even like it, there can be little doubt that a great majority of Catholics would regret its passing. As someone who has opposed the Agreement from the outset (on the grounds that it would be a shot in the arm for the IRA, as it has been) I sympathise with them. The passing of the Agreement would be a victory for the Unionist leadership and the Unionist leadership have shown by their behaviour since it was signed that they do not deserve such a victory.

There is a major part of the Northern Ireland problem that is not addressed by John Hume's analysis. This is that the people of Northern Ireland cannot vote for or against their own government. This has been obvious, if rarely commented on, since Direct Rule was introduced in 1972. In fact it has been true since 1920. The sovereign government of Northern Ireland is, and has been since Northern Ireland came into existence as a political entity, Westminster. Despite the misleading title of at least one recent academic study. Northern Ireland has never existed as a 'state'.

This is not an insignificant fact, even though most of what has been written about us chooses to ignore it. Since the 1930s, Stormont was totally dependent on the Treasury at Westminster. Be-coming dependent on the Treasury at Westminster was no mean political feat: the Government of Ireland Act envisaged Northern Ireland as paying an imperial levy into the Treasury, to cover the cost of defence. James Craig's government managed to establish the principle that Northern Ireland could be treated as an integral part of the United Kingdom as far as government expenditure was concerned. It thus largely did away with its own control over government expenditure and therefore over government policy. Stormont ceased to be the place in which the most important decisions were taken.

Those of us who like such things as the National Health Service, which Northern Ireland could never have paid for out of its own pocket (witness the present fiscal problems of the Republic of Ireland), have reason to be grateful to Craigavon but nonetheless, the effect of his achievement was to deliver us into the hands of a government which was quite unaccountable to us as an electorate. It is an amazing fact that the political commentator Brendan Clifford has had to write perhaps half a dozen pamphlets (fn) to establish the most elementary fact of British political life: that the government is formed by the great political parties, and that consequently if we cannot vote for or against those political parties we cannot vote for or against the government.

The consequences of our inability to vote for or against the government are enormous, as all those who prate about the importance of democracy ought to know. Briefly, we have not been able to engage in serious political debate and, consequently, we have not been affected by serious political debate. We are Protestants and Catholics in politics for certain reasons that were very strong in the 1920s and we have had no reason since to become anything other than Protestants and Catholics in politics. This is because we have no influence whatsoever on how the economy is to be organised and because, in the context of a devolved Parliament, Protestants had to maintain their solidarity to resist possible incorporation in a united Ireland, and Catholics to maintain their solidarity to counter Protestant domination. No one could deny that the pattern of politics in Northern Ireland is both deep-rooted and unsatisfactory; but it is only in the real battles over the real policies of real governments, not in the world of make-believe, that profound changes can be expected to take place.

John Hume is the leader of the 'Social Democratic and Labour Party' and he first made his name in the civil rights movement arguing for the democratic reform of Northern Ireland. One would therefore expect him to recognise the importance of our inability to vote for or against our own government. But insofar as he does recognise its importance he is very anxious that we should remain that way. Towards a New Ireland proposed that we should not have any representation at Westminster at all (I hope I don't have to fill up more space demonstrating that being able to vote for 17 MPs, none of whom belongs to a political party capable of forming a government, is not the same thing as being able to vote for or against the government). The whole strategy of the condominion is based on the idea that the 'two sovereign governments' are independent of the electorate of Northern Ireland. And the division of politics into Protestant and Catholic is absolutely essential for John Hume as a nationalist. If Catholics had the option of voting for the Labour or Conservative Parties, it is likely that only very convinced nationalists would continue to vote for the SDLP, and all John Hume's schemes would fall apart if the real size of the serious nationalist (as opposed to anti-Protestant ascendancy) sentiment in Northern Ireland were to be exposed.

It is understandable that John Hume should not wish to raise the small matter of our systematic exclusion from the democracy of the state in which we live. What is less understandable is that the Unionists should be so anxious that the matter not be talked about. When the SDLP was formed, it was possible to believe that, in addition to being a nationalist party, it was also dedicated to improving the lot of Catholics in Northern Ireland, and that the second interest could predominate. The moment of truth came in 1974 when the February elections revealed the strength of Unionist opposition to the Council of Ireland. In the eyes of the Catholic population, the Council of Ireland was a small thing compared to the principle of power-sharing. But for the authors of Towards a New Ireland, it was the crux of the matter and, rather than postpone its implementation, they were prepared to lose everything (and they did).

The Anglo-Irish Agreement has proved to be a similar moment of truth for the Unionists. The Unionists could be seen simply as people committed to maintaining Northern Ireland's position within the United Kingdom, or as people who wish to enjoy an easy undemanding little semblance of authority (and the income that goes with it) at Stormont. Their conduct of affairs since the Anglo-Irish Agreement was signed strongly suggests that they are the latter. The symmetry with the SDLP is not, however, precise because they are much less disciplined; they have a much more diffuse popular base; they have no leader of strong will or strategic ability to compare with John Hume; and the ambition to return to Stormont is a miserable little thing that cannot be argued for with confidence, unlike the ambition for a united Ireland, which is a Noble Ideal, even if it does not strike me as a very sensible one.

The Unionists could have argued that instead of being ruled by one unrepresentative government. Northern Ireland under the Anglo-Irish Agreement was now governed by two. They had a very powerful democratic case, developed at length in various pieces of evidence given to the special committee established to investigate the Anglo-Irish Agreement by the Northern Ireland Assembly. No intelligent use was made of this material whatsoever; instead they preferred to argue that the Anglo-Irish Agreement discriminated against Protestants in favour of Catholics. This was an argument of transcendental silliness. It immediately concedes the weakest part of John Hume's case: that all Catholics are nationalists and regard the Dublin government as their legitimate representative; it accepts that the term 'democracy' is irrelevant to Northern Ireland, where politics can be nothing other than a haggling between two monolithic communal blocs; it invites the immediate reply that since the Protestants were in the dominant position for fifty years they cannot now complain against a small advantage being given to Catholics; it suggests the ideal of 'equality' between the two communal blocs, which logically leads to the conclusion proposed by John Hume - power-sharing under a condominion; and it gives the Unionist leaders no role to play other than that of aggrieved Ulster Protestants, a role in which they cannot possibly hope to win any sympathy from British public opinion.

They have by their behaviour retrospectively justified the Anglo-Irish Agreement, which they could have used to expose the rottenness of the whole system under which we are governed.

The tragedy of all this is not that the unionists have lost out to the nationalists or that the Protestants have lost out to the Catholics. That is a matter of complete indifference to me. I have little personal reason to care whether Northern Ireland is part of the UK or part of a united Ireland. The tragedy as I see it is that a united Ireland is not possible, given the opposition of the great majority of the people; but that the perpetuation of communal politics wished for and worked for by every powerful section of our political life - the Unionists, the nationalists, the government of the Republic of Ireland, the government of the UK, and all their satellites in the media and in that specialised area of activity which likes to call itself 'culture' - will keep the war going for the next fifteen to twenty years at least.

When the British government concedes the right of the Dublin government to represent the Catholics of Northern Ireland; and when the Unionists in response accept a nonsensical analysis of our political problems calculated only to favour the nationalist case, then I cannot see how the IRA, which has kept going under much less favourable circumstances, can fail to believe that yet more wonderful things can be achieved with only a little more pressure. And as long as they believe that, it would be the height of irresponsibility for them to discontinue the war.

The tragedy is the worse because at the level of the population at large the problem does not seem insoluble. Catholics in general do not particularly want a united Ireland, but they are determined not to be dominated by Protestants; Protestants in general do not particularly want to dominate Catholics, but they are determined not to be trundled into a united Ireland. A majority in both communities, if the only opinion poll that ever thought to pose the question is to be believed (MORI in 1987 fn), would welcome the chance to take part in the normal politics of the state in which they live. It is only the vested interests that stand in the way.

I would like to finish by clarifying one of the points I have made. I have said that the organisation of the government-forming parties of the UK in Northern Ireland would weaken the SDLP (it would also of course weaken the Unionist parties) and cut the nationalist vote down to its true size. This is what I hope it would do. I do not, however, think that it would make a united Ireland any less probable than it is at present, unless a united Ireland is to be achieved by the gun. For those who believe in peaceful persuasion, the breaking down of communal politics would give them a thousand opportunities for peaceful persuasion of 'the other side' that they do not possess at present (it would give the same opportunities - the opportunity of meeting 'the other side' - to those of a unionist turn of mind). Unionists and nationalists would have the opportunity to co-operate in day to day politics without surrendering their respective positions or the right to argue them (the Conservative and Labour Parties in Northern Ireland would continue to hold the position they hold at present: that the constitutional position of Northern Ireland will be decided by the people of Northern Ireland - a principle that, incidentally, is enshrined in the constitution of the SDLP). The border would not cease to be a live issue. It would merely cease to be the only possible issue.

fn. Parliamentary Sovereignty; Parliamentary Despotism (John Hume's Aspiration); Government Without Opposition; The Unionist Family; Queen's (A Comment on a University and a Reply to its Politics Professor): all published by Athol Books (Belfast). Back



by Sean Farren


The so-called 'vested interests', in the form of the existing political parties in Northern Ireland, which Peter Brooke castigates in the concluding section of his article, only retain influence because people vote for them. To suggest that they 'stand in the way' of 'normal polities' and prevent parties such as the British Conservative and Labour parties from organising and canvassing in Northern Ireland is a rather far-fetched argument. Indeed, none of the existing parties has the power to prevent any other party from seeking electoral support in Northern Ireland. If other parties, particularly those whose advent Peter Brooke would appear to welcome, wish to seek support in Northern Ireland they need only set about doing so in the normal way.

However, it is quite evident that none of the major British parties has any intention of taking up this challenge. They have no real 'feel' for the politics of Northern Ireland, no empathy, in a political sense, with the people of Northern Ireland and, hence, no willingness to conceptualise politically issues in ways which would respond to the concerns of the people of Northern Ireland.

That this is so has been evident from at least as far back as partition. The Government of Ireland Act in 1920 was intended to lay the basis for an all-Ireland state, a prospect the British government also formally recognised in the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921. A willingness to accept such a prospect was reiterated in the Sunningdale Agreement of 1973 and again, in very explicit terms, in the Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1985. In the latter the British government agreed to facilitate the establishment of all-Ireland institutions should agreement on them be reached by a majority in Northern Ireland. The consistency of this commitment does not suggest any desire on the part of Britain to remain in Northern Ireland indefinitely. That being so, the unwillingness of British political parties to organise here is perfectly understandable.

So, when Peter Brooke identifies, correctly in my opinion, the relationship between Northern Ireland and Britain as crucial to a solution in Northern Ireland, his failure to appreciate British perceptions of that relationship seriously undermines his case.

Since the SDLP accepts that Britain has no long-term interest in remaining in Northern Ireland, the party's strategy, in seeking a political solution, has been to achieve agreement on the widest possible basis between representatives of the two main political traditions in Ireland, unionist and nationalist, as to the kind of political institutions and relationships that would best serve the people of the island and to have any such agreement endorsed by referenda in both parts of the country.

Stating the SDLP's strategy in this manner underlines a number of important points. First, the SDLP believes that the political problems manifest in Northern Ireland result from a failure to resolve satisfactorily relationships between nationalist and unionist in Ireland as a whole, not just in Northern Ireland. Second, since these relationships also involve relationships with Britain, among which is the special relationship between unionists and Britain, a successful resolution will only be achieved by involving British, as well as Irish parties to the conflict. Furthermore, as Peter Brooke correctly states, this strategy rules out any attempt to resolve the conflict by focusing exclusively on the political parties in Northern Ireland.

Based on this analysis the SDLP argues that the involvement of both the British and the Irish governments is essential in the search for a political solution. If both governments must be involved, it also follows that a joint approach would be one most likely to achieve positive results. To this end the SDLP proposed as early as 1972, again as Brooke indicates, the creation of an Anglo-Irish framework to provide practical means by which agreement could be pursued. The Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1985 and the Ministerial Conference established by it are those means.

Contrary to what Peter Brooke claims, there can be little doubt but that a majority within the nationalist community supports this framework and, however slow progress may be in achieving the necessary agreement between unionists and nationalists, that majority does not wish to return to the pre-Agreement situation.

That such an approach should be advocated is not unique, or politically strange, as Peter Brooke seems to suggest. Neighbouring states in many parts of the world, with problems analogous to those in Northern Ireland, have found themselves obliged to cooperate in a manner not dissimilar to that required of the British and Irish governments. The problems of the South Tyrol require the co-operation of Austria and Italy. Sweden and Finland have co-operated over the Aaland Islands and it is hard to imagine the divisions in Cyprus being healed without the involvement of Greece and Turkey.

Undoubtedly having an institution like the Anglo-Irish Ministerial Conference, in which no Northern Irish representatives sit, would not be satisfactory as a long-term situation. The SDLP is anxious to see the people of Northern Ireland directly represented in decision-making as soon as possible and, therefore, does not wish to see the present situation continue unchanged any longer than is necessary.

At this stage progress towards an agreement which would allow meaningful and democratic participation in decision-making for the people of Northern Ireland is dependent on a number of factors. Unionists, faced as they now are with the clearest statement ever of how Britain views its relationships with Northern Ireland and, in particular, its relationships with themselves, have a clear choice to make. Either their political leaders decide to enter into dialogue with nationalists to achieve a satisfactory solution to which they contribute in the most positive manner possible, or else they allow a situation of drift to continue in which the people of Northern Ireland remain politically marginalised.

The SDLP fully appreciates the difficulties facing Unionist leaders who might be inclined to take such an initiative, difficulties created not least by the continuing campaign of IRA terror. This campaign is condemned by the SDLP as futile and counter-productive as well as profoundly tragic in human terms. Its futility and counter-productive nature lie in the fundamentally mistaken view that it is the 'British presence' rather than unionist opposition to Irish unity which is the cause of partition. Furthermore, the SDLP has argued that progress towards Irish unity is totally dependent on persuading those who oppose unity of its merits, and not on murder and destruction.

These points have been the essence of the SDLP's case in the party's recent talks with Sinn Fein. If Sinn Fein was to accept these arguments an entirely new and more hopeful context for dialogue would be created. If, however, Sinn Fein maintains its current position and continues its support for the IRA, the prospect of a further period of violence, maybe twenty years as Peter Brooke suggests, is likely, with no realistic hope of the forced British withdrawal which would satisfy Sinn Fein and the IRA.

However, even if the IRA campaign continues, there is a strategy which would ensure its ultimate defeat. That strategy is the one outlined above which seeks agreement between as many of the main unionist and nationalist parties in Ireland as possible. An agreement between these parties endorsed by the people of Ireland, North and South, would provide the political authority necessary for dealing with paramilitary threats, whatever their source. It is the absence of such authority and not the lack of adequate security measures which frustrates current efforts to deal effectively with terrorism in Northern Ireland. Achieving an agreement of this kind will require a degree of risk-taking, political imagination and determination not always evident in Irish or British political parties.



by Peter Brooke


The 'vested interests' that I castigate at the end of my article include, in addition to Unionists and nationalists, 'the government of the Republic of Ireland, the government of the UK, and all their satellites in the media'. I should perhaps have spelt out that in 'the government of the UK' I include the UK political parties. I do indeed regard them as more culpable than the local political parties. The local political parties cannot radically change the political landscape. The UK political parties could if they so wished.

Sean Farren is right to say that 'they have no "feel" for the politics of Northern Ireland, no empathy, in a political sense'. The reason for this is simply that they refuse to organise in Northern Ireland. Islington Constituency Labour Party has no 'feel' for the politics of South Glamorganshire, no empathy, but the party as a whole is obliged to take account of both places because it is organised in both places. Our problem in Northern Ireland is that despite the lack of 'feel', 'empathy', etc., of the UK political parties, we continue to be governed by them and will continue to be so even in the perspective offered by Mr. Farren until the SDLP succeed in persuading 'those who oppose (Irish) unity of its merits', which could take a long time.

If I understand him aright, Mr. Farren envisages in the meantime a power-sharing subordinate government responsible simultaneously to Dublin and Westminster but with Westminster providing the whole budget. I do not believe that this is likely to be a sufficiently stable system of government to take on the IRA but, leaving that aside, the power always lies with the budget and the budget lies at Westminster in the hands of these people without 'feel' or 'empathy'.

But Sean Farren argues that they wish to withdraw from Northern Ireland anyway. The evidence for this is the 'clearest statement ever of how Britain views its relationship with Northern Ireland' in the Anglo-Irish Agreement. The passage to which he refers says that in the event of a majority deciding in favour of a united Ireland the British government would not stand in the way. That is a very reasonable thing to say. It would in fact be quite shocking if they did not say it. It means that Northern Ireland has the right to self-determination. Would that the government of the Republic of Ireland had made an equally unambiguous statement. Given, however, that only a small minority (I continue to believe that it is only a minority of the Catholic minority) really wish a united Ireland, this clear statement of the British government's intentions means no change. And for the reasons I gave in my article and which I hope are by now well known in Northern Ireland, 'no change' means undemocratic and irresponsible government - a problem which I repeat is not addressed by Sean Farren's proposals which leave us still under the domination of Westminster until such time as we transfer our affections to Dublin.

I should stress that I am not arguing against a subordinate government in Northern Ireland, or against a subordinate power-sharing government, or even against an involvement on the part of the government of the Republic of Ireland. My objection to the SDLP's policy is simply that it presupposes the continued denial of our right to participate fully in politics at the level of the sovereign government - a sovereign government which at present happens to be Westminster. I believe that the new opportunities that would be open to us if we claimed that right provide the only means by which the pernicious division of our political life into sectarian blocs can be broken down.

The only real argument that Sean Farren gives against all that is that it is unacceptable to the British political establishment. But I am sure he will agree with me that if Irish men and women fail to press for a fundamental political right merely because it is unacceptable to the British political establishment, they deserve to be treated with scant respect.

NOTE: It is no longer true that MORI 1987 is the only opinion poll that has asked if people wish the UK political parties to organise in Northern Ireland. Since I wrote my article, the question has been posed in a Coopers and Lybrand's opinion poll published in The Belfast Telegraph, 4-5 October, 1988. Sean Farren may tell me that this does not show a majority of Catholics in favour of the policy. It shows only 45%. But 45% Catholic support is not bad for a policy that has received much publicity as a 'real Unionist' policy. It is much larger than the Catholic support for power-sharing devolved government (18%) and twice as large as the figure for Catholic support for a united Ireland (22%). This last figure is quite consistent with other opinion polls (it was 24% in 1987). It is a patent absurdity that our politics are based on the assumption that all Catholics want a united Ireland. If by 'the nationalist community' Sean Farren means those who wish a united Ireland, then that community comprises, according to opinion poll evidence, less than a quarter of the Catholic community and only around 9% of the population of Northern Ireland. Back