Northern Ireland

Northern Bishops warn of ‘nationalist alienation’

Cardinal Tomas O Fiaich
Cardinal Tomas O Fiaich Cardinal Tomas O Fiaich

The Northern Catholic bishops voiced deep anger at the extent to which British government policy in Northern Ireland in the mid-1980s alienated the Catholic population.

A meeting between Catholic Primate Cardinal Tomas O Fiaich, senior bishops and NI Secretary Douglas Hurd took place on December 3, 1984.

Bishop Edward Daly spoke of his dismay in the aftermath of the Anglo-Irish summit when British prime minister Margaret Thatcher rejected the report of the New Ireland Forum. She appeared to have rejected it out of hand, he told Mr Hurd.

The British government seemed to analyse the situation in terms only of security, with violence being the major problem. The Derry prelate thought that the security problems were a symptom of political and economic difficulties.

The bishop thought that the minority were more distanced than ever from the institutions of government. Constitutional nationalism deserved better of the British government than what had come out of the summit.

More generally, Bishop Daly said that the NIO's perceptions of the nationalist community did not correspond to reality. "The minority felt that there was no place for them in NI and were thus reluctant to agree to be governed by the institutions of the state. If the SDLP entered the Assembly, they would be finished in a week."

Defending Thatcher's `out, out, out' comments, Mr Hurd argued that there had been a good discussion at the summit itself and the PM had not intended to be insulting. However, on the Irish Dimension, he thought that joint authority would not be workable.

For his part, Bishop Daly said: "Northern Ireland was an artificial political entity and unless the government showed itself willing to face down the unionists, the minority would not believe there was a place for them in it."

Bishop Cahal Daly agreed, pointing to the need for some kind of power-sharing executive and a recognition for the right of the Republic to be able to express its view.

"Constitutional nationalists had nothing to show for their efforts over many years and, unless some form of power-sharing were introduced, the terrorists would remain well placed to cultivate a pre-revolutionary situation throughout the whole of Ireland."

For his part, Mr Hurd felt the forum report had moved discussion forward and the Irish Dimension had not been rejected. However, Bishop Edward Daly said the attitudes of unionists had not changed, as reflected in the actions of unionist-controlled councils. It was urgently necessary to give the nationalist minority some share in power.

Finally, Bishop Cahal Daly underscored the degree of alienation in the nationalist population: "The Government of the Republic must necessarily be involved since 40 per cent of the people in the North thought of themselves as Irish people, not Ulster people."