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26 March 1998 Edition

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New in print

Rationalising ``a measured military response''

The Narrow Ground
The Ulster Crisis

by ATQ Stewart
Published by Blackstaff Press
Price £8.99

ATQ Stewart likes his history. He likes the telling of a history, relishing in the details, building up a unique picture. Stewart is also a unionist and as an historian his writings offer a view that many republicans will find, at best, at considerable variance with their own. At worst they will find Stewart's views insulting and patronising.

This makes it all the more important to read the latest re-releases of two of his most well known books. The Narrow Ground: Aspects of Ulster 1609-1969 was originally published in 1977. The Ulster Crisis: Resistance to Home Rule 1912-1914 was originally published ten years earlier.

To understand exactly where Stewart is coming from you need to read his books in reverse order. Start with, for example, the last chapter of the Narrow Ground titled ``Catholics 1920-1969''.

Stewart tells us that ``In 1920 the nature of the Ulster Protestant's problem was dramatically changed.... Now they were called upon to act as a majority, having to govern and tolerate a dangerously large and troublesome minority.''

The poor unionists made, according to ATQ, ``the best of the situation and contrary to popular Catholic belief, they did genuinely try to create a non-sectarian state in which all citizens would enjoy equal rights.''

If you were wondering just why the promised non-sectarian state never actually came into being Stewart has the very plausible explanation that ``the IRA launched in the north a campaign of murder and outrage with the object of making it impossible for the new government to function''.

Stewart does admit that ``the response to the IRA shootings by infuriated sections of the Protestant population was sometimes on a larger scale''. But he goes on to crib that ``Catholics alleged throughout the world that these attacks amounted to `pogroms', and found a ready audience, especially in the United States''.

The consequence of the IRA campaign and the sectarian rioting was to create the B Specials and the passing of emergency legislation. Still cribbing, Stewart writes that ``the erection of these emergency features into the permanent structure of government has been a major grievance of the minority''. It was justified in his mind because of the ``ruthless determination of republicans''.

Later in the chapter he tells us that ``The minority had no incentive to reform the state''. ``Catholic hatred'' of the Six-County state's institutions was ``total'' and ``unalleviated by any effort at compromise or understanding of the Protestant viewpoint''.

Stewart proclaims that ``there was no question which could not be aired in parliament'' and that ``not only did Stormont not enact discriminatory laws against Catholics; it was expressly forbidden to do so by the 1920 Government of Ireland Act''.

Stewart does concede that ``minor injustices could, and did, flourish''. This only happened though because ``Protestants were allowed, and indeed obliged, to claim the monopoly of loyalty to the Government''.

Stewart's apology for the years of unionist misrule, systematic discrimination and brutality are based on a simple premise that the Protestant Unionists are not to blame. The central theme of the Narrow Ground is to perpetuate the myth that it is Catholics who are to blame, because of their resistance to British occcupation, to their support for republicanism and because they could not accept partition.

Worst of all, Stewart lays the blame for hundreds of years of conflict in Ireland at the door of the Catholic population. Their sole damning crime that created the centuries of misery was the fact that they were Catholics.

Early on in the book Stewart tells us that ``had the British Isles as a whole remained Catholic, or had the Reformed religion been adopted in Ireland, a mild movement for independence would probably have developed in Ireland during the nineteenth century. It would undoubtedly have been successful without much bloodshed in the twentieth''.

He then tells us that the opponents of Catholic emancipation were motivated not by religious bigotry but by fears of a Catholic-dominated parliament. There is only one way to describe Stewart's analysis. It is the rationalisation of the politics of the so called ``measured military response''.

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