Creation of a six-county state a textbook example of gerrymander

The Government of Ireland Act (GOIA) was enacted 100 years ago this month. The enactment followed the sweeping democratic victory for republican separatists in the general election of  December 1918.

The more immediate context,  however, which prompted the unionists and their British backers to act decisively, was that of the two local election results of 1920. In an effort to prevent another runaway victory for the independence movement, the British government introduced  the proportional representation (PR) system into Ireland. However, the subsequent urban and rural elections resulted in even more emphatic wins for the alliance of republican, nationalist, and labour representatives – and further setbacks for the unionists.

In January 1920, the nationalist alliance gained control of 10 of the 12 boroughs in Ireland, including Derry for the first time ever. The Ulster Unionist party retained control of Belfast alone but lost 15 seats in the process. In the rural elections held in June, Sinn Féin swept the board taking control of 338 out of 393 local governments. Even in Ulster they took over 36 of the 55 rural councils. Democracy was clearly not working for the unionists, nor for the British government.

A few months later, in December 1920, the partition of Ulster and Ireland was pushed through the Westminster parliament. This was a careful carve-up of existing electoral areas designed to provide for a unionist state – with an inbuilt unionist majority in perpetuum. If gerrymandering is defined as ‘manipulating the boundaries of an electoral constituency so as to favour one party or group’, then the creation of the six-county state (as opposed to the historic nine of Ulster) is a textbook example of gerrymander. The renowned English journalist and historian, Max Hastings, recently described the partitioning of Ireland as ‘an historic injustice’.

Not content with its artificially established majority, the Unionist Party went ever further and set about gerrymandering the newly created ‘minority’ population even more.

(To expedite this, they abolished the PR system and reinstated the

‘first-past-the-post’ rule in all elections). Nationalist majority Derry was the most blatant of the gerrymandered constituencies but it was ruthlessly practised in

Belfast and through much of the countryside.

The system prevailed until the nationalist areas finally erupted in protest almost half a century later.

In retrospect, therefore, the Government of Ireland Act, enacted in May 1921, can fairly be described as the mother of all gerrymanders.


Terenure, Dublin 6

Legitimate aspiration

Leona O’Neill’s article ‘Still too soon for a ‘united’ Ireland’ (April 4) would have been better titled ‘Don’t upset the unionists’.

Her “I would love to see Ireland united, but not at the cost of my unionist friends’ piece of mind” has neither sense nor logic. Nothing in this world would ever change on the basis that there will be some people who are going to be upset by that change.

Maybe we should consult unionists on who we should vote for just in case it upsets them; or not bother promoting Gaelic games and the Irish language as to not to upset their mental equilibrium.

Why is it that nationalists have to give up their legitimate aspiration for a united Ireland just because it upsets some people. She also ignores the fact that unionists have done more than their fair share of, as she puts it, “talking out of one side of their mouths”.

We have had to endure a sectarian state which was constructed and maintained by discrimination, armed force and gerrymandering. By Leona’s argument black South Africans should not have fought against apartheid in case it annoyed some Afrikaners or Rosa Parks should have sat where she was told to sit on the bus in order not to upset the white folk.

The truth is that for some people there will never be a good time to talk about a united Ireland.

The north was set up as a Protestant state for a Protestant people, not a place where all people were treated equally. Its time is nearly over and I for one will not regret it.


Belfast BT11

Unaffordable hospitality will drive people away

The ‘select few’ hospitality businesses are claiming their latest 30 per cent increase on a pint of beer, from £5 a pint to £6.50 is their response to ‘hidden costs’ bar owners are trying to absorb post Covid.

Yet retail businesses, hairdressers, coffee shops, fast food outlets, cleaners, taxi  drivers and thousands of furloughed workers who work in the same industries that support and sustain hospitality all year round haven’t asked for an increase for their goods and services or wages.

Do all these people who support the pubs and restaurants at the weekends, and tip staff generously to sustain their minimum wages not have ‘hidden costs’? Do they not pay rates, tax, feed kids, buy school clothes, buy food and petrol?

Do they think Northern Ireland customers can’t count? You are giving customers no choice, people are converting their beautiful homes into fitted, opulent, warm, affordable safe social hubs post Covid.

The tourists are gone for now, nothing is certain or sustainable in hospitality for the moment.

However, the good news is, you have a choice.

Turn Northern Ireland’s hospitality industry into a sustainable market for its citizens and returning tourists or continue to drive people to find an alternative to inhospitable, unsustainable and unaffordable hospitality venues.


Belfast BT14

Delusional notion

It seems that not all the cranks reside in Co Cork, after reading the delusional notion put forward by Dr John Coulter – ‘Unionism must become persuaders in a post-Brexit Ireland’ (May 3). He wants the Irish people to give up their hard won independence to rejoin the United Kingdom, although the word ‘rejoin’ has me somewhat puzzled.

His main reason seems to be centred on the influence of the Catholic Church and the sex abuse scandals. In typical unionist head in the sand fashion, he avoids mentioning any wrongdoing attributed to this union he wants us to hook up to.

There is no reference to the sectarian set up of the north, which ensured a loyalist majority and which the British government turned a blind eye to.

Nothing either, about the murderous atrocities inflicted on the people of this island by so-called crown forces. While finger pointing at the Catholic Church, he conveniently ignores the thousands of children sexually abused by clergy in the Church of England, of which the queen is head. It’s time to realise Mr Coulter that days of bowing and knee bending to an unelected monarchy are long gone. The idea that we should return to that, is to use your own words, pie in the sky.


Coleraine, Co Derry