Chapter 18. – THE ULSTER PROBLEM
THE ULSTER PROBLEM
” WHEN a people have struggled for 750 years against subjection it is perhaps not strange that the one dominating characteristic of such a people should finally come to be antagonism. And antagonism has come to be an ingrained quality of many Irishmen. Among ourselves in the 26 counties there is hardly less of antagonism between the labour group and those not so labelled than there is between the so-called Republicans and those who support the Treaty. The agreement with the British Government has removed Ireland’s one great inspiration for unity, and has made many Irishmen forget that after all we are every one of us Republican extremist and moderate Free Stater, radical labourite and idealistic Separatist IRISH !”
Collins thus introduced his narrative of the two years’ reign of violence in Belfast one night while he lay ill at the house of a friend in Dublin. He told me the story only after he had become convinced of the uselessness of further conferences with Sir James Craig.
” Mistaking the means for the end is perhaps the greatest blunder a man can make,” he continued. ” Unhappily it is a blunder of which many Irishmen are guilty. In some instances fighting for freedom has come to mean fighting for fighting’s sake. Bringing the victims of this delusion to realise their folly constitutes the gravest problem confronting the Free State Government. For it is this spirit of suspicion and hostility animating opposing groups of Irishmen that is largely responsible for the situation in Ulster. If unity is impossible among us of the South, how can we expect understanding and reconciliation with Ulster
” The semblance of unity which we managed to manufacture at the recent session of the Sinn Fein Ard Fheis was artificial in the sense that it was but temporary and for expediency, but it would be a mistake to imagine for a moment that that unity would not become very real and absolutely effective if either Britain or Ulster attempted to take advantage of any apparent split between the four opposing groups. It has always been so in Ireland. Enemies of Coady are brothers in arms tomorrow instantly an outsider seeks to exploit either to his own end.
” I have every reason to believe, however, that neither Britain nor Ulster has any thought of trading on our disunion. Those of us who negotiated the Treaty are convinced of the good faith of the English signatories. This in itself precludes the possibility of any aggressive action on the part of Ulster. Whitehall invariably shows Belfast the way. The bitterer our quarrel becomes, the more virtuous will be the attitude of both Britain and Ulster.”
(In the light of subsequent events this prophecy is of unusual interest in so far as it proves the great insight of the Irish leader. At the time he gave me this interview massacres of Roman Catholics were of daily occurrence in Belfast. The pogrom had been uninterrupted for two years. With the outbreak of the civil war in Southern Ireland the atrocities in Ulster ceased as if by magic !)
” Before I take up the situation in Ulster, therefore, I want to emphasise the one factor that is worrying us more than any other the disunion that exists within our own parties. Divergence of opinion among supporters of the Treaty are almost as great as the gulf that separates the Free State party as a whole and the Republican party. There is an unbridgeable chasm between the uncompromising extremism of the radical wing of the Republican party and its moderate adherents.
” De Valera is a moderate at heart. An idealist, he is at the same time less radical than many of his followers. Proof of this can be adduced. To do so I shall lift a corner of the veil of secrecy that covered the three-hour conference that took place just before the opening of the Ard Fheis between the leaders of the two parties. At that conference De Valera and Stack met Griffith and me in an attempt to find a common ground on which to appeal to the 3,000 Sinn Fein delegates for unity. As I think I have already made plain there is no follower of De Valera not even excepting Cathal Brugha more bitterly hostile to the Treaty than Austin Stack. Yet an agreement was reached and reached in the face of Stack’s violent opposition. To prove De Valera’s moderation it is necessary to reproduce a portion of our discussion in the conference.
” ‘ I have a clear majority of 600 in this Ard Fheis,’ said De Valera.
” ‘ You have not,’ I told him.
” Stack insisted that their majority was quite 600 and a blind man could have seen the chip on his shoulder.
” ‘ You’re wrong,’ I told them. And before they could say anything further I showed them how wrong they were. I told them they had a majority of more than a thousand !
” In spite of this admission of mine we reached an agreement not to take the vote which I acknowledged would see us beaten by two to one. The reason De Valera consented to forego this victory was simple. He knew that that Ard Fheis was as typical of the Irish nation as Tammany Hall is typical of New York State. As well expect Tammany to endorse the Republican candidate for President as to expect the Ard Fheis to vote to disestablish the Irish Republic. A vote in the Ard Fheis would leave the situation in the country unchanged. No good could come from taking a vote then. I drove the point home with a paraphrase of the alleged threat of Mr. Lloyd George (which he never voiced) about ‘ immediate and terrible war.’
” ‘ If you force the issue here,’ I told De Valera, ‘ it will mean that we shall go to the country and have an immediate and terrible election ! ”
” Even Stack smiled. But his opposition to any kind of agreement was not in the least abated. He was still dissatisfied even after De Valera had managed to persuade us to postpone the General Election for three months. That agreement was popularly supposed to be a victory for De Valera. Actually it earned him the displeasure of all the extremists among his followers. His moderation, as then expressed, accounts for the ascendancy to-day of Rory O’Connor. De Valera is less than ever the real leader of those who oppose us. He wishes more than ever that some way could be devised to get him ‘ out of the Republican strait- jacket ‘!
” It is a pity, but it is true, that De Valera finds himself in an inextricable position for all his desire to get himself out of it. Recently he qualified an earlier statement of his by saying that whereas he had stood on the rock of the Republic, he now felt he held a stronger position in that he was standing on the rock of Right. The truth is he knows that rejection of the Treaty will not bring the Republic into practical being any more than it has ever been a practical entity. He knows, moreover, that the Republican ideal is as dear to us who support the Treaty as it is to himself. He knows the achievement of that complete independence which a recognition of the Republic would bring to Ireland is much more nearly certain of being won through the medium of the Treaty than by its rejection. He knows that we who oppose him will work to make Ireland strong enough to declare her independence strong enough to force world recognition of her status as a sovereign State.
” He knows these things but his followers do not. And the pity is that he has not the moral courage to tell them ! He is a leader who does not lead, but is forced to adopt a course insisted upon by his followers. And I have gone into this purely domestic business in order the more clearly to set forth the actual facts regarding the situation in Ulster. For, curiously enough, there is a perfect parallel there.
” Sir James Craig like De Valera is powerless to control his followers. The madmen responsible for the bloody warfare on defenceless Catholics in Belfast and elsewhere throughout the North-East counties have gone about their slaughtering with complete disregard of their own authorities. They are continuing their murdering with absolute impunity. I came to a realisation of the truth during the visit of Sir James Craig to Dublin at that conference after which it was announced that ‘ a serious situation ‘ had arisen over the question of the Boundaries Commission. It was not at all the matter of the Boundaries Commission that brought the conference to an abrupt end. It was not our disagreement over this subject that made Sir James Craig walk angrily out of the City Hall.
” Time after time Craig declared that Lloyd George had tricked Ulster. Each time my only reply was a demand to know what he was going to do to end the slaughter of Catholics in Belfast. Each time Craig evaded the question. Finally, I told him that there was no use of our continuing the discussion because he had satisfied me that he could not guarantee, much less control, the actions of his followers. His public announcement that Ulster would never abide by the findings of the Boundary Commission was, perhaps, his way of refuting this charge of mine. It seems to me hardly a refutation !
” Before I take up the details of the atrocities in Belfast I must make one further reference to Sir James Craig. I foresee the possibility of the end of his nominal leadership in Ulster and the consequent opportunity for the Free State Government to take that situation in hand.
“If we can achieve unity in the 26 counties, if by setting a good example among ourselves we can prove our capacity for self-government, there will be a favourable reaction in the North-east. Of even greater value will be the changing of public opinion in England. By our own efforts I believe we can influence the sentiment of the British Government, which has been historically pro Ulster, and make it favourable to Ireland as a whole. To bring this about there must be an end of Irish hatred of England. There must be an end of references to the English as ‘ the enemy.’ So long as the British Government acts in accordance with the spirit of the Treaty we must deal with them in the same spirit. Our hope of a United Ireland is based largely on a growing realisation by the British Government that it is to their own best interests to give the Free State Government a chance to prove our good faith toward the North-East Once we can accomplish this there would follow necessarily the withdrawal of English support from Craig. The records are the best proof that Irish unity is impossible with Craig in power in Ulster.
” And now we can examine the records and determine whether this is a fair statement. For everything that has happened in Ulster since the pogrom against Catholics began July 21, 1920 Sir James Craig, as head of the Ulster Government, is responsible. Let us look at the official figures. Here are the total for two years :
Driven from employment 9,250
Driven from homes 23,960
Now homeless in Belfast 3,800
” All these figures refer to Catholics. In the same period no Protestants were driven from their employment or their homes. As for reprisals, here is a table that shows the comparative numbers of killed and wounded on both sides during the first six months of 1922 :
Killed.– Wounded. –Killed.– Wounded.
January 8,20, 4, 13
February 28 ,70, 17, 27
March 42, 58, 22 38
April 26, 37, 15, 36
May 46, 103, 29, 63
June 20, 57, 33
Totals 170, 345, 95,
” These figures are misleading inasmuch as the killing and wounding of Protestants have not been in all cases the work of Catholics. We have indisputable proof that uniformed specials and armed mobs of Protestants have frequently numbered their own kind among their victims. This has been an unavoidable feature of the rule of the revolver in the streets of Belfast. One of the most recent outrages illustrates the inevitability of such mistakes on the part of the Ulster gunmen.
” At the intersection of two of the busiest streets in Belfast a lone gunman took possession of an office and throughout an entire afternoon terrorised the neighbourhood. He fired at every passer-by, and before his murderous work had completely emptied the street he had killed five men and wounded seven others. Of these twelve there were only three who were Catholics. From his position he could not possibly have identified any of them by sight.
SUCH INSENSATE BLOOD LUST IS HIDEOUS ENOUGH BUT HOW MUCH GREATER THE INFAMY OF A GOVERNMENT THAT PERMITS SUCH A THING TO HAPPEN WITHOUT TAKING ANY STEPS WHATEVER TO INTERFERE WITH THE MURDERER !
” A Mrs. Fitzpatrick, living in her own home at 5, Parkmount Terrace, Belfast, was driven into the streets with her three young children on the night of July 18. She was the only Catholic left in the locality. Nine weeks earlier her husband had to escape from the house by the back way when word reached him that a crowd of loyalists were coming to kill him. Since then he has never dared return to his home. This was the notice served upon Mrs. Fitzpatrick:
” ‘ As these premises are required for the Southern loyalists, who are homeless, you are required to clear out, or, without further notice, means will be taken to have you removed.’ According to information that has reached us Mrs. Fitzpatrick’s house has remained unoccupied ever since. There is no record of the arrival in Belfast of any ‘ Southern loyalist.’
” More recently the Belfast Telegraph consistently a mischief-maker and inciter of the pogromists printed an account of an alleged attack by Sinn Fein gunmen from the Old park Road upon Royal Ulster Constabulary in the Marrowbone district. The facts are these :
” Two drunken specials in civilian clothes appeared at the Brick fields in the afternoon of July 19 and approached a crowd of Catholics expelled workers who use the fields for recreation purposes. The specials drew revolvers and shouted, ‘ Hands up, you Fenians ! ‘
” Then they searched the Catholics, and finally took a boy off across the Brick fields. After going a short distance with them the boy started to run away. The specials, very much under the influence of drink, chased him and fired shots at him, but he escaped. Soldiers on duty in the neighbourhood opened fire and wounded one of the specials, Isaac Bradley, in the groin. Later all the male inhabitants of the Marrowbone were rounded up in the Brick fields and searched.
” In the evening of the same day members of the R.U.C. were making enquiries in Ardilea Street when they were fired at by the loyalists in Old park Road. The police saw five men armed with a rifle and revolvers between Cliftonville and Old park roads, and gave chase. The men escaped pursuit, but the Marrowbone was raided and searched from end to end for the ensuing twenty-four hours.
” Orange newspapers safely count on the ignorance of the outside world regarding the location of Catholic quarters in Belfast but it is high time that attention was called to the fact that Sinn Fein gunmen would hardly choose a Catholic community like the Marrowbone in which to fire upon their own friends !
” Outside Belfast the rule of the revolver is almost, if not quite, as much in evidence. There was the case of a Mr. Owen Donnelly, of Whitehouse, whose daughter was married recently to a Mr. Anderson of the same village.
Mr. Anderson was formerly a Protestant who became a Catholic shortly before the marriage. On the wedding-day he was visited and threatened by two specials, and a few days later his father-in-law received the following letter : ” ‘ I want to let you know that we know the game you have been playing these few months as regards W. Anderson. You rushed the thing, got him to turn, and paid him to do it.
” ‘ You think you are clever, and we know you are the boss of the Sinn Fein Hall as well, but we know all and the clothes you are wearing will not save you. We have seen you miles away from Whitehouse, so you are easy got. It might be days and it might be weeks, but we will get you when we want you so you may prepare to meet your God. You will not get any letters from us again, but we will send you a bullet quick and sure. Take heed and don’t treat this as a joke. We have men away after Anderson. At present he is in Coalisland so we will get him, we never fail. Sinn Feiner beware, for this is your last chance, so get down and say your prayers, but vengeance is ours. You will not lead any more good Orangemen into the ranks of the dammed old Fenians.
” ‘ FROM THE 6-COUNTiES COMMITTEE to a rebel bastard and leader of young men from the Protestant Faith.’ ” Since his receipt of this letter Mr. Donnelly has remained in Whitehouse and as yet the threat remains a threat.
” The lying propaganda promulgated by the Belfast Press has gone a long way towards misleading world-opinion. In order to carry out the extermination of the Catholic minority in the North-East it was necessary to make it appear that the 90,000 unarmed Catholics in Belfast were making war upon the 280,000 Orangemen and non-Catholics, most of whom are armed and well supplied with ammunition. To illustrate the methods of the propagandists the slaughter of children in Weaver street last February is pertinent.
” There were the usual playing children in Weaver Street when two strange men appeared and held a whispered conversation with the police on duty. The policemen went into an adjoining street and ordered the children who were playing there to go into Weaver Street. Then they drove all the children to one end of the street. Presently the two strange men appeared again and threw a bomb into the midst of the children killing and wounding more than twenty of them all of them Catholics. Five of the wounded died, and most of the survivors are maimed for life.
” THE PRINCIPAL CONTINENTAL PAPERS INCLUDING THE LEADING CATHOLIC PAPERS IN ROME REPRESENTED THIS AS A CASE OF BELFAST PROTESTANT CHILDREN BEING BOMBED BY SINN FEINERS. THAT WAS THE STORY SENTTO THE WORLD BY THE BELFAST PRESS ASSOCIATIONS.
” Another attempt made by the propagandists has been to show that civil war has been raging in Belfast. The facts give the lie to this statement. The population of Catholic males between sixteen and sixty in Belfast is about twenty thousand. Of the forty-nine thousand armed special constables in the Six-County area, there are twenty thousand in Belfast. There are ten thousand soldiers in Belfast. There are three armed men, therefore, to keep in order each two unarmed Catholic males between sixteen and sixty years of age. Surely it is not necessary to say more.
” Recently the Ulster newspapers have diverted their activities from incitements of the pogromists into the more profitable channels of incitements of the Irregulars and armed bandits throughout the rest of Ireland. The issue of the ‘ Fenian Irregulars’ War Bulletin ‘ for July 21, containing altogether less matter than one column of an ordinary newspaper, has no fewer than seven extracts from the Orange Press. Erskine Childers, De Valera’s director of publicity, seems proud to reprint the gloating of these Ulster newspapers over the alleged victories of the Irregulars. He copies also in the columns of his Poblacht na h’Eireann their advice to the Irregulars as to how best to carry on guerilla warfare.
” Changing conditions have resulted in a change of methods on the part of these propagandists. Formerly the prime object was to make reasonable the Ulster denials that pogroms and persecutions ever took place in Belfast, and that Orangemen were forced to act in self-defence by the provocative aggression of Sinn Feiners. Now they bolster up this lie by attempting to show that the peace that reigns in Belfast is the direct result of the departure of the Sinn Fein gunmen for the South to join the ranks of the Irregulars. This, they urge, leaves the majority of the Ulster Catholics free to do what they have hitherto been restrained from doing by these gunmen recognising the Ulster Government ! I KNOW OF NOT ONE INSTANCE OF ANY SUCH RECOGNITION !
” Is it possible that the real reason for this industrious spreading of falsehoods is to be found in the wording of a supplementary estimate for the British Civil Service, issued July 20, 1922 ? It deals with an item of 2,250,000 for a grant in aid to the Six-County area, as a contribution towards abnormal expenditure ‘ not to be audited in detail.’ It is not enough that this is one of the supplementary estimates which generally escape the notice of the British taxpayer. It is well to take the added precaution of keeping well hidden the fact that this ‘ abnormal expenditure ‘ is caused by misgovernment that is without parallel since the penal days ! ”