Mark Humphrys (politics)


  Irish history

The NI Troubles

The future



Northern Ireland

The solution to the original pre-1922 Irish problem, and the modern Northern Ireland problem, and almost every conflict in the world, is the same: Every country should tolerate diversity. Every country should be a secular liberal democracy. Every country should be a happy place for minorities. Being a minority should never make one feel like a lesser citizen.

Countries should resist the impulse to impose a majority culture or religion. Protestant rule and Catholic rule and Islamic rule should be resisted. Gaelic history and British heritage can be celebrated but should not be imposed. Those who wish to dissent should be able to.

I have more thoughts in: The definition of a country.


My background

OK let me give my background so you can dismiss me. I am from a Catholic, nationalist, political, southern Irish background. When I was young I left Catholicism and indeed Christianity. Since the 1980s I have been an atheist. I married an English Protestant. I admire science and the Western Enlightenment. I love Ireland, but I do not identify primarily with Ireland. I identify primarily with the West. I support all democracies against non-democratic enemies. I support the front-line western states (America, Britain and Israel) against enemies of the West such as Islamists and jihadists. I reject any anti-western model of Ireland, like the models of Eamon de Valera, Michael D. Higgins and Gerry Adams.

Now we can begin.

My grandfather fought in the GPO with Pearse in the 1916 Rising.
My granduncle was the first President of Ireland.
My great-grandfather was a Home Rule MP, Sinn Fein TD, and a Member of the First Dail.
My great-granduncle founded the Irish Volunteers and died in action in the 1916 Rising.
My great-great-grandfather was a Home Rule MP and a nationalist High Sheriff of Limerick.
My great-great-great-grandfather was a Home Rule councillor and a nationalist High Sheriff of Limerick.

Irish history


The (original) Irish Problem

Should Southern Ireland be independent at all? - It is such a cliché that Ireland was an abused colony, and indeed most Irish people think of the past as "colonial", that it is sometimes a shock to realise that Ireland was not meant to be regarded as a colony at all, but as part of the nation. The 19th century is full of well-meaning attempts to make Ireland look as much a part of the national landscape as Scotland. And, in an alternate history, it could have worked. Even as late as 1914, the UK might still have been saved. For Ireland really was (and still is) a fundamental part of English and UK history, in a way that many Irish people deny.

Irish blood has flowed in the veins of many people, from the English Royal family downwards, who have shaped the past and present of the English state.

And English blood has always flowed in the veins of Ireland's great families, including many of its great rebels.

Of course, in Ireland, all of our ancestors in every line came from Britain, if you trace the lines back far enough (except for the very small number that came direct from the Continent).

The UK could have worked, but the whole population had to be brought on board as first class citizens. The Catholic majority of the Irish population had spent the 19th century recovering from their dispossession, the theft of their land, and the long systematic denial of Catholic rights to property, education and professional membership - and, when they finally reached the middle class in the late 19th century, voted immediately for Home Rule and, eventually, for independence.

The 19th century failure to save the Union

The denial of Home Rule in 1874 to 1916 was a great tragedy, for Ireland as well as for the UK. In that period, Britain was a flawed democracy, and Irish people had a vote, but British rule of Ireland was fundamentally not democratic. The Irish never voted to join the Union in 1801, and when they were, in the late 19th century, finally allowed the vote, they voted again and again to leave. But they could not vote to leave - they had to wait until parliament allowed them to go.

Britain was a proto-democracy that slowly evolved into a real democracy. The first truly democratic (large numbers of voters, all religions, secret ballot) election in Ireland was held in 1874, the first chance that the natives ever had in 300 years to say what kind of society they wanted. It was a triumph for democracy after centuries of coercion. And the will of the people was quite clear and understood. It should have been a final, peaceful end to the long sordid story of disenfranchisement.

But instead, the results of that election, and all subsequent elections in the following 40-50 years, were overruled by London. Having been finally granted the vote, the Irish people now found that the vote was of limited use. Yes, in 1874 to 1916, Ireland got much richer, it got land reform, and Irish nationalists (including my family) took over most local government. English politicians did try to get Home Rule through but failed.

Finally, only by the violence of the 1919-21 IRA could the democratic will of the people, expressed in elections for decades, be finally implemented. It is good that the will of the people finally got expressed, but for me (and I feel this more and more as I get older) it wasn't worth killing people for, not to mention the unforgivable destruction of Irish heritage. Ireland will never recover from the violence of 1916-23.

The 20th century tragedy of independence

Ireland's independence was a mess. It caused the Civil War, the destruction of the Public Record Office, partition, a sectarian Catholic state in the South, and a sectarian Protestant state in the North.

Certainly you can blame Irish and British unionists for blocking the Home Rule that was the clear will of the people. And maybe you can blame the Irish nationalists for not waiting another generation, and for turning to violence in 1916. I think both sides are to blame. Both sides were democrats who believed in some form of democracy. They should have been more reasonable.

Ireland was poor compared to Britain in 1900, but actually richer than a lot of Europe, and so one of the richest places in the world at that time.
From 2018 paper. Uses modern boundaries. Discussed here.

The song "James Connolly" by The Wolfe Tones shows the lack of a sense of proportion of many Irish republicans.
The lyrics are completely over the top: "God's curse on you England, you cruel hearted monster; Your deeds they would shame all the devils in hell".
The most evil deeds ever? What did England do? They executed a wounded rebel fighter, James Connolly, a man who had just killed 116 soldiers and 16 policemen.
Are Connolly's victims not human too? Couldn't their families sing a song about James Connolly as a "cruel hearted monster"?
Irish republicanism is a legitimate philosophy, but it badly needs a sense of proportion.

The Irish Times and the Irish Independent supported the execution of the 1916 leaders.
(Left) The Irish Times, May 10, 1916, after most of the leaders have been executed, supports further executions.
(Right) The Irish Independent, May 10, 1916, also supports further executions.
James Connolly was executed on 12 May.
In our glorification of 1916 violence, we have lost touch with the world view those newspapers represented. But reading their editorials is not a look into madness. It is an alternative view, one that has been wiped out of Irish history.

Party Votes % Votes Seats % Seats
Sinn Fein 476,087 46.9 73 69.5
Irish Unionist 257,314 25.3 22 20.9
Irish Parliamentary 220,837 21.7 6 5.7
Labour Unionist 30,304 3.0 3 2.8
Independent Unionist 9,531 0.9 1 0.9

The results of the 1918 election, the Sinn Fein landslide, are more complex than people think.

Ireland has reformed

The Irish problem has always been, and is today, basically a simple problem, about the nature of disenfranchisement. The problem lasts as long as the disenfranchisement lasts. The question of nationality is only secondary (as is shown by nationalist enthusiasm for the modern power-sharing settlement in NI).

Having your own nation may or may not be a good way of achieving a free and equal society. You may trade the hostility, prejudice and thoughtlessness of your foreign rulers for a new set of home-grown, tribal majoritarian oppressions, as southern Ireland did for many years.

But southern Ireland is a much better place now. It is a proper liberal democracy, where everybody is a first-class citizen - even secular atheists like me. It has abandoned the insane ideas of protectionism and self-sufficiency, and embraced global capitalism, becoming one of the richest countries in the world, with strong ties to America and Europe. It can even begin to think again of Britain as its "sister country" without recoiling from the term.

The NI Troubles

Northern Ireland in 1967, like the UK in 1915, was a deeply flawed democracy against which Irish nationalists had genuine complaints. Whether those complaints ever justified killing anyone is a different question. I think not, for both times.

Who died.
See detailed breakdown.

Who did the killing.
See detailed breakdown. And image.

Who did the killing (excluding the unknowns).
Pie chart made here.

Who did the killing.
From here.

Who killed who.


Who killed who.
From here.

The Future

It's hard to know what the long-term future of the North is.

On the one hand, southern Ireland seems more emotionally attached to the North than Britain. Britain emotionally abandoned Northern Ireland long ago, regarding it more as a "white man's burden" than as part of their country to be defended. The inability of the Ulster unionist to win the hearts and minds of Britain is shown in opinion polls. For decades, even during the Troubles, polls have shown that more Britons want a united Ireland than want NI in the UK. The Republic of Ireland, in contrast, has made no such abandonment, and continues to regard Northern nationalists as fellow countrymen. So one might think the future of the North is with (a reformed) Ireland.

On the other hand, peace and power-sharing seem to have ended the urgent desire of northern Catholics for a united Ireland. There has been a major shift in polls during the Peace Process, where now more NI Catholics want NI in the UK than want a united Ireland. It may be that there would be an economic cost to a united Ireland, since Dublin could not afford the subsidies that London can. This would put off northern Catholics, and also (even more) put off Southerners. Southerners would also not vote for any arrangement that would start up the Troubles again. If a united Ireland means a violent loyalist uprising, Southerners will vote no. Far better to keep the current arrangement. So power-sharing may be here to stay.

Northerners seem to like power-sharing. One now imagines that if there ever is a majority vote for a united Ireland, that power-sharing will still not end. First, to provide security for unionists, but secondly, because nationalists, having tasted power and worked successfully with the unionists, will not want to give up power to Dublin either. Whether within Ireland or the UK, power-sharing Home Rule for Ulster will continue forever.

The Peace Process has not led to any great desire for a united Ireland.
NILT opinion polls over time.
Graph from here.

Among Northern Catholics, more now want to stay in the UK than want a united Ireland.
Technically, the majority of Catholics are now unionist.
The major change of recent years is that the Peace Process has led to Catholics becoming much happier within the UK.
NI opinion polls, of Catholics only. Graph from here.

British attitudes towards NI over time.
For a long time, a majority of Britons have wanted to be rid of NI and its Troubles, irrespective of how NI unionists feel.
The major change of recent years is that the Peace Process has made Britons happier to keep NI within the UK.
Graph from here.

A secular state

There are more than two peoples on this island. A growing number of people are rejecting the entire Catholic-Protestant identity.

Economic freedom

Post-1922 Ireland was not an economic success. It adopted bad ideas (like protectionism) that did not help the economy.

But everything got better in the late 20th century as it adopted better ideas. It is now one of the richest countries in the West.

Independence was not a success for the Irish economy. De Valera and others adopted bad ideas (like protectionism) that hurt Irish growth.
Only when Ireland adopted free market ideas, free trade, globalisation and low corporation tax in the late 20th century did the Irish economy become a huge success.
Stats from Angus Maddison.


Ireland as a free, independent ally of Britain and America

The Republic has abandoned two major principles of the revolutionary Irish (de Valera) state: (a) a Catholic state, and: (b) protectionist, self-sufficient, nationalised-industry economics. It is now secular, and capitalist. Now is time to abandon a third principle: (c) neutrality. It is time for the Republic to become a formal ally of Britain (and the US).

In the Iraq War, the brave decision of the Fianna Fail / PD government to keep Shannon Airport (and other Irish airfields and airspace) open to the Allies, even in the absence of a UN resolution, was a welcome step in this direction. In the future we should go further and declare Ireland a formal ally of Britain and America.

Famous speech given in 2003 before the invasion of Iraq, by Colonel Tim Collins, from Northern Ireland.
Re-created here by Kenneth Branagh in BBC drama 10 Days to War (2008).

I had an exchange about neutrality in Aug 2014 with Irish journalist Bryan MacDonald.

The Anglosphere

The Presidential standard.
Maybe this should be the new Irish flag.
The Tricolour symbolises two tribal, sectarian traditions and a pious declaration of "peace" between them. It is a symbol of division if anything. And the unionists have never been impressed by this declaration of "peace".
Maybe, as we redefine a secular, free market, pro-West, and possibly re-united, Ireland, we should switch flag to something like the Presidential standard.
Another possibility would be St Patrick's Cross (which became part of the Union Jack).

Alternative Ireland:
US airbase in Co.Cork in WWI, 1918-19.
From Oregon State University. Also search here.

Alternative Ireland:
US airbase in Co.Antrim in WW2, 1944.
From here.

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