Northern Ireland news

Anti-Catholic Basil Brooke speech was 'public expression of unionism's private view'

Basil Brooke being interviewed by RTE in 1969

THE anti-Catholic sentiment voiced in an infamous speech by Basil Brooke was largely reflective of the unionist government of the day, according to the author of a book on the life of the former Northern Ireland prime minister.

Sam Logan believes Viscount Brookeborough's remarks at the 1933 Twelfth celebrations in Newtownbutler, Co Fermanagh, in which he said he "wouldn't have a Roman Catholic about his own place", was simply an articulation of a view widely held by senior Ulster Unionists, including then prime minister James Craig.

The former Ulster University chemistry lecturer and amateur historian's recently published book charts the life of Basil Brooke from his childhood on the expansive Colebrooke Estate near Lisnaskea through his distinguished military service and later political career.

Sandhurst-educated Brooke was Stormont's longest-serving premier, holding office for almost 20 years up to his resignation in 1963.

He became an MP in the years after partition, entering Craig's Stormont cabinet in 1929, as minister for agriculture before being appointed Northern Ireland prime minister in 1943.

Brooke was a passionate Orangeman and a one-time president of the Ulster Farmers Union.

The Life of Sir Basil Brooke by Sam Logan

It was in 1933 while speaking in his capacity as the order's district master that he delivered a speech which many believe reinforced the sectarian nature of the fledgling Northern Ireland statelet.

Reflective of the era, an accurate transcript of the speech is not available, however, the thrust of its content is not disputed.

Brooke told the appreciative Newtownbutler audience that while many of his Protestant and Orange counterparts employed Roman Catholics, he himself would not have one about "about his own place".

He qualified his aversion to employing Catholics by claiming they were "endeavouring to get in everywhere and were out with all their force and might to destroy the power and constitution of Ulster".

Sam Logan agrees that in the 1920s and 30s the "atmosphere had been poisoned by the trouble that followed partition" and that unionists were suspicious of their Catholic neighbours, many of who failed to recognise the new regional parliament.

He told The Irish News the sentiments voiced by Brooke were commonplace at the time, though rarely expressed publicly.

Former Northern Ireland prime minister Basil Brooke

"I think what was unusual is that Brooke was saying outloud on a very public platform 'I don't employ Catholics' – the others (in the Ulster Unionist Party) probably didn't employ many or any but they didn't talk about it publicly like that," he said.

The author reckons the speech did little damage to MP for Lisnaskea's political ambitions.

"Within the Unionist Party I don't think there were any (negative consequences) and essentially the only man that mattered at that time was Craig, and he was quite willing to accommodate what Brooke had said, even though he would have been careful not to say things like that himself," Mr Logan says.

In his book, he also cites Craig's 'byword' of "This is a Protestant government and I am an Orangeman", supporting the notion that his minister's professed discrimination was in keeping with Ulster Unionist ideology at the time.

Basil Brooke died in 1973 aged 85.

:: The Life of Sir Basil Brooke by Sam Logan is published by The Book Guild

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