Category: Archive

Cruise O’Brien foresees Irish unity, resigns after fallout

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Anne Cadwallader

BELFAST — Dr. Conor Cruise O’Brien has stunned supporters and critics alike this week. Twice.

Cruise O’Brien’s first bombshell dropped when part of his memoirs were published in the Sunday Independent newspaper. In the extract, he stated that unionists would have to a deal with Dublin and lift their objections to a united Ireland.

O’Brien said his argument, that unionists aspirations can best be served in a united Ireland, had been made public with the endorsement of his party leader, Bob McCartney of the UK Unionist Party.

McCartney, however, while agreeing with O’Brien’s analysis, said he was still a firm supporter of the union with Britain.

By Tuesday, Cruise O’Brien dropped his second bombshell, quitting the UKUP.

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O’Brien’s views on partition and union, which will be included in his memoirs to be published next month, were carried on two center pages of the Sunday Independent. He said unionists were faced with three alternatives as a result of a betrayal by the British government and their own weak leadership.

One was wholesale emigration to Scotland, the second was civil war. He said it would be a "mistake to believe that those who chose this option would be confined to the quasi-criminal, though such might provide a factor in a violent civil war."

Those who would engage in civil war, said O’Brien, might be those "whose previous civil record was of law-abiding industry but in whom the violation of their civil rights, as they perceived them, had provoked a mortal rage."

The third option, he said, was "a deal with constitutional nationalism to avert the British surrender of Northern Ireland to violent republicanism."

There may come a time, he said, when the RUC is radically reformed and Sinn Féin sits on the Executive, without IRA decommissioning, when unionists would be forced to seek the preservation of their rights within a united or federal Ireland.

If the union has become an instrument of coercion or oppression, he said, people might think "imprisonment might be worse than death."

Within the United Kingdom, wrote O’Brien, Ulster Protestants are about one million people in a society of more than 50 million and have little political clout.

In a united Ireland, with a total population of less than six million, the ex-unionists would be a formidable voting bloc, for whose support other political parties would compete.

"These ex-unionists would be in a much stronger position in defending their vital interests than they are now as despised hangers-on of a population which no longer wants them and whose government may progressively coerce them."

The Republic would have to guarantee in advance, he said, that the unionists would have exactly the same rights and privileges as they now enjoy in the United Kingdom.

He predicted that Sinn Féin would reject the deal. Fianna Fáil would be forced by popular demand to support it, the British government would fall on it with open arms, as would the nationalist parties.

"Sinn Féin-IRA basically hate the Ulster unionists and will hate them even more when they become ex-unionists, accepted by other nationalists. Sinn Féin wants to impose such terms on the Ulster Unionists that will drive them from the island of Ireland and will reduce the remainder to cringing submission.

"To be robbed of that achievement at the last moment by a brilliant political breakthrough for the Protestants would be the bitterest blow Sinn Féin-IRA have sustained since the Treaty of 1921. Worse than that, by being robbed of their raison d’être, Sinn Féin could be put out of business for all time."

Republicans viewed O’Brien’s statement with a mixture of hilarity and interest. They rejected as "ludicrous" his conclusion that Sinn Féin would object to unionists seeking an accommodation with the rest of the people of Ireland. They also rejected his analysis that by joining the Republic, unionists would deal Sinn Féin a body blow. They supported his view, however, that unionists should follow this course of action in their own, and others’, interests.

The reaction to Cruise O’Brien’s latest take on the tangled relationship on the island of Ireland and between Ireland and Britain had hardly evaporated when the Dublin-based former Irish government minister resigned from the UKUP.

"I write to tender my resignation from the U K Unionist Party. I do so with deep regret, but have concluded that my resignation is required, both in the interests of the party, and of my own freedom as a writer," Cruise O’Brien wrote.

"I know that many members of the party appear to be genuinely dismayed by the trend of the section of my memoirs published in the Sunday Independent. This dismay is in part the result of misapprehension, but it is genuine. If I remain in the party it will be — indeed is being — exploited by the party’s enemies," he said.

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