Ulster is a small European country in the north-eastern corner of the island of Ireland. It comprises the six counties of Armagh, Antrim, Londonderry, Tyrone, Fermanagh and Down. Its capital city is Belfast. Ulster has a total land area of 5456 square miles. In comparison, Luxembourg is 999 square miles and Israel is 7992 square miles in area. Ulster is also known variously as 'Northern Ireland' (its legally recognised title), the 'Six Counties', the 'North of Ireland', and 'the Province' according to the political opinions or prejudices of different sections of the community. The Ulster state came into existence in 1921 under the Government of Ireland Act. Ulster remained a part of the United Kingdom with its own devolved parliamentary system, and retained the right to send 13 MPs to the sovereign Westminster Parliament. The greater part of the island was granted independent Dominion status as the Irish Free State under the terms of a controversial Anglo-Irish Treaty. In 1937 that state became Éire. It declared itself to be a republic in 1949.
Three counties, Donegal, Monaghan and Cavan, lie within the territory of the Irish Republic. Over the past two thousand years, Ulster's boundaries have ebbed and flowed like the tide. The Six-County area contains the Ulster heartland. Under British rule, the fifth ancient province, Meath, was sliced up between Ulster, Leinster and Connacht. In the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, Ulster was given Cavan. County Louth, especially the area around the Cooley peninsula, is an ancient part of Ulster that is now within Leinster.
Ulster has always been different from the rest of the island. Ninety years ago, when the first Provisional Government of Ulster was set up in response to the threat of a Dublin-based parliament, Edward Carson stated that "We must be prepared... on the morning of Home Rule... to govern those districts of which we have control." That proved to be the six counties of the present-day Ulster state. Modern Ulster was reborn on September 28th 1912 - Ulster Day. We have as much right to call our homeland 'Ulster' as the USA has to call itself 'America' and the Poles have to call their homeland 'Poland'. Poland's current boundaries bear little relationship to its boundaries in 1919. That nation's territory has shifted sideways to the West. Few people will deny the Polish people the right to call their state 'Poland' even though it no longer includes 'ancient Polish' territories that are now part of Lithuania, the Ukraine and Belarus.
Unionists are those who support the Union - the maintenance of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland - which came into being in 1801. There are currently five unionist parties represented in the Stormont assembly.
The Ulster Unionist Party emerged from a coalition of Conservative and Liberals in the latter part of the nineteenth century. This coalition came about to oppose Gladstone's plans to establish a separate all-island administration in Dublin - 'Irish Home Rule'. The UUP was always a 'broad church' party united around maintenance of the Union above all else. Since the UUP lost government power when the old devolved Stormont parliament was abolished by the British government under Edward Heath in 1972, unionism has become very fractured. The UUP, led by Reg Empey who succeeded David Trimble, is no longer the largest unionist party. It is deeply divided over the, 'peace process,' Good Friday Agreement and the coalition government that has emerged from the Agreement. Mr Trimble was the First Minister in the first Northern Ireland Executive.
The Democratic Unionist Party is led by Dr Ian Paisley, a populist political preacher. He is the Moderator of the Free Presbyterian Church and has been critical of the leadership of the UUP for the past four decades. The DUP has a large working-class Protestant following, but it is dominated by a strong conservative evangelical Christian ethos. The DUP is opposed to the Good Friday Agreement but it took two ministers in the NI Executive who did not attend its meetings. Dr Paisley is now the First Minister in the new Northern Ireland Executive, despite some defections from leading members of his party, notably the party's MEP, Jim Allister.
The Progressive Unionist Party is closely associated with the paramilitary Ulster Volunteer Force. It has one elected representative in the Assembly. Dawn Purvis. The PUP claims to be the only socialist unionist party and takes a line on social and economic issues that is very different from any other unionist group. The party strongly supports the Good Friday Agreement.
Republicans deny the right of Ulsterfolk to self-determination and do not accept the legitimacy of the Ulster State. Most take the view that there is only room for one political entity on this island – a unitary state with its capital in Dublin. For almost three decades, a republican group – the Provisional Irish Republican Army – led an insurrection that sought to overthrow the State and forcibly incorporate it into an all-island “Thirty-two County Workers’ Republic”.
Two main political parties claim to be republican or Irish ‘nationalist’ – Sinn Féin and the Social Democratic and Labour Party.
Arthur Griffith founded Sinn Féin in 1906 to advocate a ‘dual monarchy’. This was modelled on the system in Hungary where the Austrian emperor was also the Hungarian king. Sinn Féin abandoned this idea under the influence of the secret Irish Republican Brotherhood and embraced the ideals of republicanism. Sinn Féin has had a close association with the IRA since the Irish war of independence after the 1916 Easter Rising in Dublin. The party has split on the issue of recognition of the Irish State on several occasions. The mainstream Provisional Sinn Féin came into being in 1970. The most recent substantial split occurred in 1986 when a new faction emerged calling itself ‘Republican Sinn Féin’. A new leftwing splinter group emerged in 2006 calling itself éirigi.
Sinn Féin acted as a mouthpiece for the IRA for most of the recent conflict. At first SF rejected electoral politics, but this changed after 1981 during the hunger strikes. SF today has four abstentionist Westminster MPs. Martin McGuinness, once the second in command of the IRA's Derry Brigade is the Deputy First Minister in the Northern Ireland Executive
The SDLP came into being in 1970 as a left-leaning ‘constitutional nationalist’ party. Sinn Féin advances mean that the SDLP no longer speaks for most Ulster Catholics. Under its leader from 1979 to 2001, John Hume, the party became the most successful political party in Ulster. Hume had great influence in Europe, the US and in Dublin. The 1985 Hillsborough Pact was his greatest achievement as it opened the door to Leinster House involvement ‘as of right’ in Ulster’s internal affairs. The SDLP has two ministers in the NI Executive. Mark Durkan, the SDLP's lacklustre leader has not managed to halt the party's electoral decline.
As political divisions in Ulster tend to run along sectarian lines, the badge of ‘perceived religious affiliation’ serves as a convenient indication mark of identity . In general, Protestants tend to be unionist and Catholics tend to be Irish nationalist or republican in outlook. The divisions tend to be social, cultural and religious as well as political. Most people in Ulster tend to live in areas that are more than 95% Catholic or Protestant. Much of this social segregation has intensified over the period of the conflict owing to intimidation (or fear of intimidation) by ‘the other community’. In Belfast, large walls called ‘peace lines’ separate Catholic and Protestant districts from one another. However, the conflict in Ulster is not primarily one of religion but of nationality although there are some fringe zealots for whom religion is most important.
In short, it was unfinished business. Republicans never accepted the partition settlement and sought to undermine it. Although the military threat to Ulster was quickly smashed after the foundation of the State, the IRA took up arms against it on two further occasions. During the Second World War IRA volunteers shot dead a policeman. One was hanged for this offence. During the late fifties and the early sixties, a sporadic border campaign ended in failure when it failed to gain mass support from Ulster Catholics.
However, this served to maintain a high state of paranoia among elements of the unionist establishment. For them, the slightest relaxation would usher in an all-island republic through the back door. As a consequence, they sought to marginalise any criticism of the Unionist Party’s government from within the Protestant community and to repress expressions of Irish nationalist sentiment from the Catholic community. This was to be their greatest mistake and contained the seeds of their own undoing.
A campaign was launched in the 1960s to obtain greater civil rights for Catholics under a reformist banner of “British Rights for British Citizens” by a body called the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association. Much of the leadership of this group came from Irish republicans and members of the Communist Party of Ireland. Republicans did not believe in reformism. Instead, they hoped to force a massive repressive State reaction that would create the conditions necessary for the Republican Movement to gain mass support and bring about revolutionary change. They did gain that mass support, but not the change that they thought would come. Instead they launched what turned out to be a bloody war of attrition that targeted large sections of the Protestant population under the guise of driving out the ‘British presence in Ireland’.
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Ulster-nationalists love their country and like most nationalists in any part of the world want to see their country stand on its own two feet rather than continue to cling to an outside power. Our people have much more in common with each other than with people in either Great Britain or Éire. We cannot get by without each other. We ought to unite under an agreed, unifying identity and proceed to face the future as an independent nation with friendly links with all allies.
Independence would give our people the opportunity to take control of decisions that affect the lives of our own people. Why be ruled by London or Dublin when we can be ruled from Belfast. Independence is forward thinking --- it involves us saying, " The past is the past. Let us leave all the hurt, wrongs, injustices etc in the past and build a future free from the division and conflict of the past. We can build a future as a lasting monument and tribute to the 3000+ Ulsterfolk who weren't allowed the opportunity to live to see it. We owe it to those who lost their lives to build a peaceful Ulster nation. This would in a sense, mean that those people did not die in vain.
Independence can potentially reach out to all our people. Unionism will never find favour with Irish nationalists. Irish nationalism/republicanism will never find favour with unionists. Why persevere with policies that will always be strongly opposed by approximately 50% of our population? Why not build a vision for the future that potentially all our people can aspire to, claim allegiance to and indeed be "excited" and united by? Independence means saying that we can be one people despite our different faiths, and other such labels. When we are one people, we can go forward and become One Nation.
As a united people we can take our place confidently and maturely among the nations on this earth. From Derry to Newry, from Belleek to Ballycastle and all points in-between, let all our people claim hold of our common identity and homeland and unite behind the country we all love and share. Let us emphasise all we have in common and not all the divisive stuff certain politicians have made a name (and money) from, over these past too many years.
The love of our Ulster homeland is not just a Protestant or a Catholic privilege or right. Loving our homeland means the love of it all, not just the Protestant or the Catholic bits. The country belongs to us all. It is loved and shared by us all. Independence similarly should be for all our people. It should be about uniting our people so we can embrace the future as a nation at ease with itself and as a nation that has come to terms with its traumatic past. To quote John Milton "Awake, Arise or be forever Fallen".
There is no political party called the 'Ulster National Party' - at least not yet. The only political party that describes itself as 'Ulster-nationalist' is Ulster Third Way. Ulster Third Way contested the West Belfast seat in the 2001 Westminster general election on an Ulster-nationalist platform. .
Most Ulster-nationalists have come from a former unionist background. The first overt Ulster-nationalist was William Frederick McCoy, a Unionist MP for South Tyrone in the old Stormont parliament. He caused a great stir in the late 1940s when he called for "Dominion Status" for Ulster. He was eventually silenced by a blinkered, reactionary and paranoid unionist establishment.
A new wave of Ulster-nationalism emerged after the destruction of Stormont by a Tory government at Westminster in 1972. Most of this came from the radical Ulster Vanguard movement. The first major spokesman for this perspective was Professor Kennedy Lindsay who wrote an influential series of pamphlets on the matter. In the mid-seventies, it gained a lot of support in hard-line unionist circles and even across the religious divide among some members of the SDLP, most notably the veteran trade unionist, Paddy Devlin. A number of small pro-independence groups emerged at this time, but only one, Professor Lindsay's Dominion Party, contested elections.
A document advocating independence was issued in 1976 by the paramilitary Ulster Loyalist Central Co-ordinating Committee. The most influential document advocating independence, Beyond the Religious Divide, was published by the UDA-linked New Ulster Political Research Group in 1979. However, the UDA leadership never made any serious attempt to educate their volunteers in these radical ideas and this initiative eventually foundered. The UDA's rank-and-file continued to vote for unionist candidates.
After the 1985 Anglo-Irish Agreement gave Dublin a 'right' to a say in the government of Northern Ireland, a new wave of Ulster-nationalist sentiment emerged. One political party - the British-based National Front - advocated Ulster Independence as a response to the Hillsborough Pact. The Ulster National Front published a booklet, Alternative Ulster, which set out that party's ideas for an independent 'community benefit' state. At the same time, two groups emerged from the loyalist Ulster Clubs movement: the Movement for Self-Determination and the Ulster Independence Committee, (later the Ulster Independence Movement).
Under the leadership of a Presbyterian minister, Rev Hugh Ross, the UIM contested elections on a number of occasions. In the 1994 European election, Mr Ross saved his deposit when he gained 7,858 first preference votes. The Ulster Independence Movement was badly damaged by scurrilous allegations on a Channel Four documentary that it was a nothing but a cover for a secret committee that ordered sectarian killings. Many members were scared off by the allegations and left the Movement. A hard-core of activists carried on but it eventually folded at the beginning of 2001. Ulster Third Way is led by former members of the UIM and the Ulster NF who retain a vision of an independent Ulster state with freedom and social justice for all of its citizens - whatever their religion.
Both unionists and republicans look outside Ulster for support and sponsorship in turn for their loyalty. Unionist supporters look to Westminster and to the British Crown and they cherish the memory of the British Empire. Republican supporters look to Dublin. Ulster-nationalists believe that we must come together and look to ourselves!
[No. We sincerely believe that our folk have more in common with one another than with our neighbours. We genuinely want peace and justice within a common framework.
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Yes we do. Most of Patrick's ministry took place in historic Ulster.