Republican Movement and GFA
Philip L Ferguson
PLF13 at SPAMstudent.canterbury.ac.nz
Sun Aug 1 20:29:57 MDT 1999
On the question of the role/importance of the Unionists these days
I think things have moved on a great deal from when the Unionists were the
essential 'fifth column' securing British interests in Ireland.
After 1921 the southern bourgeoisie became equally important to the
Unionists, if not more so, for securing British interests. From that, and
their dealings with the SDLP in the north, the British know there are no
shortage of Irish 'nationalists' who can be lined up with them and who will
guarantee their interests.
Republiucans have always (rightly in my view) made the point that when the
British no longer needed the Unionists, they woud dump them like a hot
potato. I don't see that there is much evidence that the Tories tend to
honour their debts to past allies. They are more hard-nosed than that.
And British Labour, although being just as imperialistic as the Tories, has
not been especially committed to the Unionists.
The dilemma for the Unionists is that the historical context in which they
were crucial to British interests no longer exists. They are a political
force whose time has passed, and that explains why they are so pissed and
The other thing is that British interests in Ireland have changed a great deal.
For instance, in the early stages of conquest (1100s-1400s), it was purely
booty in a feudal situation. In the 1500s, 1600s and 1700s, it was booty
and strategic interests. The strategic interest was that the Brits didn't
want Ireland to be used by a hostile power (first Spain, then France) as a
base ofr attacking Britain.
In the 1700s it was also about stunting the development of capitalism in
Ireland, so that there would be no competition from there with British
In the late 1700s, another factor came into play: the emergence of a
powerful revolutionary movement in Ireland, republicanism, which posed a
direct threat to the British state and the British ruling class.
In the 1800s the threat of revolution continued. Plus Ireland was a source
of cheap labour and food for the industrial development of Britain.
The Unionists were critically important as Britain needed to have some mass
support in Ireland.
But these days, what does Britain need Ireland for?
I think Britain stayed in Ireland partly out of historical paralysis and
then, when the civil rights movement exploded and then the armed struggle
began, Britain stayed because it could not allow itself to be driven out by
a revolutionary movement. Since the north had been directly incorporated
within the British state in 1922, withdrawal from Ireland would have meant
the unravelling of the British state and struck a powerful blow against the
British ruling class. So they needed to stay to see off the threat.
Also, thorugh its hold over Ireland, Britain acted as the overall guarantor
of imperialist profits which were mainly being made in the South, where the
rate of return for big foreign corporations was HIGHER than it was in Latin
America in the 1960s and 1970s.
But now republicanism has ceased to be a threat to the British state and
ruling class, also the British ruling class is allowing devolution for
Scotland and Wales without any fuss. So what interest do they have in
clinging onto the north in the old way?
It is extremely costly, troublesome and yet no longer threatening to
British or other imperialist interests.
Ten years ago, probably no-one could imagine the implosion of Stalinism in
eastern Europe and the break-up of those countries. Ten years ago, none of
us could imagine Britain ridding itself of Ireland. But the world has
I don't know whether Britain will extricate itself from Ireland, or whether
the British ruling are keen to do this. But I do think so much has
changed, that it is *possible*, and is a scenario that needs to be thought
Making Ireland a *normal* European capitalist democracy must certainly have
its attractions for imperialism: British, American and EU.
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