Letters to the Editor

The plantation of Ireland advocated a form of apartheid

Reginald Maudling, Britiain’s Home Secretary in the Ted Heath Tory government declared, as he stepped aboard an aeroplane after his first visit to the north of Ireland in 1970: “For God’s sake, bring me a large Scotch. What a bloody awful country.” This comment is in contrast and an insult to a Gaelic country whose description Insula Sanctorum et Doctorum had fame as the island of saints and scholars, established for more than 500 years. Irish colonial history of 800 years as England’s first colony was one of constant conflict. The colonial state rendered Ireland and its native Irish population non-existent. Catholicism and the Irish language were repressed and most Catholic-owned land was confiscated. After the first stage of colonialism the English state moved to the next stage of colonial conquest by adding one more tactic. Their sword and their laws had already been employed – now was the time to apply forced population movement. This involved two complementary processes –  clearance and plantation. Removing the native Irish and replacing them with English and Scots planters. A name they acquired because they had to labour on the land and to meet and comply with sectarian conditions set down by the English colonial state. This second stage plantation of Ireland advocated a form of apartheid, where the native Irish would be confined to their own South African-style Bantustans, allowing the colonies to develop separately. It set the trend for future English policy in Ireland. As we have seen over the past centuries, those who are dispossessed and see the decline of Gaelic society and the influx of foreigners and their lands confiscated are bound to strike back and try to recover them. Seamus Heaney wrote “that peace is merely the desolation left behind after the decisive operations of merciless power”.

The Ulster Plantation became the most successful for the colonists and is still today in the partitioned north. The plantations changed the demography of Ireland by creating large communities with a British and Protestant identity. Here the native Irish who were the most Gaelic were not treated with the greatest liberality. It was Ireland’s most untamed province. The Scottish planters were mostly Presbyterians and English mostly Anglicans.

They saw the plantation as a means of controlling, anglicising and ‘civilising’ Ulster. Following partition of 1921 the rulers of the north of Ireland acted swiftly to prevent the emergence of any non-sectarian ground.
A Protestant state with the Orange Order their keepers of the past continued with the favouring of Protestants over Catholics. The tragedy of the years of partition show how moderate nationalists and Catholics could be turned into militant republicans.

In a sense it’s a question of an intransitive relations structure. If the descendants of the original planters continued with the benefits from the structure of the past political settlements then they remain planters. With equality between the descendants and the native Irish, it would be possible to say that the planter stops being a planter.

Dublin 6


Border poll criteria

As Brian Feeney points out, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar recently said: “I do think we’ll need to clarify the mechanism for calling a border poll. Surely it should involve the Northern Ireland Assembly and not just be the judgment of the Secretary of State” (May 25). First Minister-in-waiting Michelle O’Neill quickly echoed Varadkar’s call.

The advocacy group Ireland’s Future regularly urges the secretary of state to shed light on the circumstances triggering a vote.

I agree that the criteria for calling a border poll should be clarified, but there is little chance that the secretary of state will comply.

Successive secretaries of state, including incumbent Brandon Lewis, have repeatedly resisted public demands for clarification.  In court, the Northern Ireland Office has forcefully insisted that the power of the secretary of state to order a poll must remain undefined and unfettered.

The Belfast High Court and Court of Appeal have upheld, even expanded, the secretary of state’s shadowy authority over a border poll. Together, the Northern Ireland Office and the courts have rendered meaningless the Good Friday Agreement’s provision

that the emergence of a likely majority for Irish unity will trigger the calling of a poll.

The whole point of the secretary of state not specifying the criteria for ordering a border poll is to maximise his control over any such poll.

Why would Brandon Lewis willingly limit his currently unconstrained and jealously guarded authority over a border poll?  The secretary of state will call a unification vote if and when the British government judges that it is expedient. As in all things so in a border poll – the British government will be the sole arbiter of its own self-interest.

Toronto, Canada


Glacial rate of work on Watt’s review is a disgrace

The Irish News reported on the completion of work on the third cohort of the living former patients of the ex-neurologist Michael Watt ( June 10 ).

The recall of living patients was one of three measures announced in relation to Michael Watt in May 2018. Two are now complete: the recall and Brett Lockhart QC’s report on governance, which is to be published later this month. The third measure, the review of the cases of Michael Watt’s deceased patients from 2008 to 2018, is  the one which has seen little or no progress. Work on a mere 45 cases – just 1.5 per cent of the 3,500 patients who died during that 10-year period – began last year. To date no report has been released to family members. I know this as my late mother was one of the 45 patients in the review even though she died in 2002.

The glacial rate of work on this review is a disgrace. Action needs to be taken to ensure that the task is finished.

Belfast BT12

Enjoy reading the Irish News?

Subscribe now to get full access


Letters to the Editor