The North in crisis-The orange state
ONCE UNIONISM had secured constitutional power and finally survived the threat of the Boundary Commission it rapidly extended its power over the Protestant population of the Six Counties. It utilised all its resources to crush all other organisations with any power and any manifestation of discontent among the Protestant working classes. It did this primarily by institutionalising sectarianism.
In 1922 during extremely vicious sectarian riots in Belfast when the thousands of armed Protestants in Belfast killed Catholics with impunity the Unionists mobilised some of the old Ulster Volunteer Force and created an armed R.U.C. and a Special Constabulary. During these riots 232 people were killed, 172 of them Catholics, over 1,000 wounded and millions of pounds worth of damage done to property. These forces were to be "a defence against our enemies" according to Craigavon, and not a normal police force. They were to ensure that sectarianism would be perpetuated by their arbitrary and discriminatory use of authority.
This process of armed consolidation of Unionism was fully supported by Britain until the Second World War, The Conservatives ruled throughout the period apart from two brief, paltry attempts at government by Ramsay MacDonald, The party at this time was openly partisan towards the most vicious and repressive elements in the Orange state, Imperial opinion at this time when Britain ruled a huge Empire was not in the least favourable to Ireland, particularly during the Economic War. Thus in 1922, 1931, 1933 and and in 1935 British troops were used to put down outbreaks of sectarian rioting acting under the strategic direction of the R.U.C.
The Special Powers Act was passed in 1922 as a temporary measure. It was made permanent in 1933 and strengthened from time to time, The Act was invoked regularly whenever trouble of any sort gave the Unionist government a pretext to invoke it. This Act when enforced by the R.U,C. ensured that any Catholic opposition to Stormont that was not fully constitutional was speedily crushed with a maximum of efficiency and a minimum of normal legality.
Sectarianism was created and perpetuated by an enormous repressive state militia with the tolerant approval of the governments in power in Westminster,
Unionism also had to eliminate right wing and liberal movements in the Protestant ranks, In 1925 a parliamentary secretary lost his seat to a Protestant group called the" Unbought Tenants," which combined rural radicalism with Protestant extremism. Then, in 1929 a conservative right wing group called" Optionists " ran against the Unionists in the General Election, The Optionists demanded local control of education and stronger temperance laws.
The Unionist answer was to abolish Proportional Representation in the same year. This effectively put a stop to the development of Protestant splinter groups. The Progressive Unionists, for instance, who ran in the election of 1938 were totalhr defeated.
The other Unionist tactic was the extension of the Orange order. Many new lodges were created and Orangism became a social and religious power which reinforced Unionist ideology, People who did not co-operate with Unionist Party suffered social ostracism or personal violence and this was put into effect by the Orange Order.
The Unionist Party became a huge self-confident stable monolith.Lord Craigavon was Prime Minister from 1921 until 1940. His successor, J. M. Andrews had been a cabinet minister for twenty years. And his successor, Viscount Brookeborough was Prime Minister until 1963.
This unchallenged hegemony was helped by powerful allies. The main opposition party was the Nationalist Party from 1921. Their quota of seats varied from twelve to four depending on the strength of the poorly organised Republicans, The Party was strong only in rural areas and was to a large extent dominated by the A.O.H. and the Catholic Church, thus lending plausibility to Unionist allegations of Roman domination.
The Six Counties suffered severely from the world wide depression in the 1930s. The linen industry and shipbuilding industries were worst hit. Unemployment was 27% in 1927 and rose to a peak of 31 % in 1933. Unemployment, however, was high all the time, Free trade destroyed many industries. And Unionist economic policy was dominated by the landowners and it did not encourage development of new industries.
In this vital area the Unionist machine could have been destroyed by the rise of working class militancy, This was avoided by the destruction of the Trade Union movement in the 1920s. In 1924 it was made illegal for trade unions to finance any political organisation. Westminster legislation on trade unions was not adopted by Stormont. Protestants and Catholics were encouraged to join different trade unions. And the formation of indigenous trade unions was opposed.
Sectarianism, in fact, was always most bitter in the working class areas of Belfast. The failure of the trade union movement can be seen most clearly if one remembers that workers in the shipbuilding industry in Belfast lived beside each other yet only resorted to a form of fratricide when they became redundant. Unionism, thus, was covered on all flanks. Even when economic conditions degenerated the very sectarian base of Unionism split the working class further instead of uniting it.
This was ensured by Unionist discriminatory ecnomic policy, Workers west of the Bann were deliberately kept poorer than those east of the Bann. In the 1930s the relative income gap was over £130 per person. In 1933 when unemployment was 28% for the whole work force in the North, it was over 40% among Catholics. Catholics were laid off first and redundancy in Catholic areas was placidly acquiesed to by the Government-though usually disputed and frequently ameliorated in Protestant areas.
The Six County economy developed enormously during the Second World \Var. Lord Craigavon's attempt to introduce conscription in the North was rebuffed by Westminster but thousands of Protestant unemployed were taken into the armed forces, Emergency wartime industries were set up all over the Six Counties and the precarious industry of ship-building worked at full strength.
The war period saw a further strengthening of Unionism, The neutrality of the South was despised by Protestants of the North. The destructive activities 'of the I.R,A, in Britain were despised to an even greater extent. Large scale migratory labour from the South to the boom conditions of the North created almost racial tensions. It was a period when the underlying economic fears which characterised Unionism were satisfied for a time by a British war, while the South languished economically.
After the war the North entered a period of economic depression. Neverthe less an important new factor was introduced in these years. This was the welfare state. It was resisted initially by Unionism but once it was accepted it had a very significant effect on the North. Catholic emigration dropped rapidly. Wholesale permanent unemployment was made possible without fierce, sporadic outbreaks of sectarian rioting. The welfare state also became the central plank in Unionist propaganda about the link with Britain, aimed mainly at the exploited, deliberately unemployed Catholic working class,
Thus the outward manifestations of bitter sectarian hatred disappeared in the North. Paralleling with this was a change in the economic policies of both states. They both became dependent for expansion on the attraction of foreign capital. Older industry (shipbuilding and clothes in the North and minor textiles in the South) found the competition of foreign products too great. Yet at the same time both states had a high unemployment rate and an untapped source of female labour. Thus they developed similar and often cooperative economic programmes. This had a great effect on the South and a slightly more indirect effect on the North.
In the 1960s the South has managed to stabilise its emigration. It has also managed to lessen the breakdown of small farms. The stabilisation of the Southern economy even if it did not greatly raise the standard of living, changed the South's relations with Britain. Political energy was primarily devoted to attracting British capital and political debate swung from constitutional matters to normal economic issues, The border campaign which had continued from 1956 to 1962 collapsed with the rise in employment. The I.R.A.'s source of recruitment which was mainly unemployed, urban youth started working in factories. This had a great effect in the North.The B Specials were demobilised. The constant threat to the border disappeared and the imaginary menace of a Southern invasion dwindled.
Thus one had two states with the beginnings of an expansionist capitalist, rather than a rural economy. The North's economy expanded less quickly but it kept the golden link with the welfare state. The logic of this economic rapprochement was seen in February 1965. This was the first meeting of the two prime ministers, Captain O'Neill and Mr. Lemass. The depth of this entente among ordinary people could never have been very deep. This was certainly true in the North. Unemployment and petty bureaucratic repression remained endemic, But there were three vital changes in Northern politics as a result of these economic and diplomatic mutations.
First was O'Neillism. This was a new Unionism led by the middle-class and supported by Britain, capital and television. It had no base in the suspicious, local Unionist constituency Councils or the Orange Order and sought to establish itself by fully utilising the mass media. Unionism of this sort wished to create a normal democratic state where well-off Catholics and Protestants would vote Unionist.O'Neillism did not see the
necessity in a wealthy society for the militarist trappings of a fascist state.
The reaction to this among the Catholic and Protestant middle-classes was favourable. In the last election very many Catholics voted for the O'Neillite candidates in the Belfast area, But it cut very little ice in the frigid oligarchies run by Orange cliques in the North and it had little effect on Catholic and Protestant workers since the logic of its belief (wealth) was not very apparent to them.
Paisleyism developed in reaction to this new Unionism. It disliked the government's friendly relations with the South. It disliked the ecumenism of O'Neill's general appeal to the middle classes. It used the traditional Orange methods in order to protest. It set up its own marches, services and demonstrations modelled on the Orange State, Paisleyism's demands were for the re-institution of traditional Unionist virtues of intransigence towards the South and repression of the Catholics in the North.
Paisley was supported by the petty bourgeois and working class youth. They united in opposition to a government which had not bettered their lot and was attempting to give the Catholics further economic integration. Both these groups feared the economic integration of Catholics for very good reasons. Both of them survived through exploitation of Catholics. The young Protestant working class was employed precisely because the Catholic equivalent was unemployed. The small shopkeepers and factory owners who formed the backbone of Paisleyism were similarly worried. They survived by keeping wages low due to high Catholic unemployment and by getting preferential building grants, rates deductions and government contracts from Unionist Councils,Economic integration would mean their ultimate extinction by foreign factories and by their Catholic counterparts west of the Bann, where Protestants often controlled trade (notably in Dungannon, where Paisleyism is strongest).
The significance of Paisleyism cannot be underrated. It meant that militant Protestantism for the first time was mainly channelled against a Unionist government rather than against the South or Catholicism. The fairly brutal baton charges on anti-O'Neill, Paisleyite demonstrations in 1966 and 1967 and the constant attacks on Paisley in the Unionist press was the first break-up of the Unionist class alignment in fifty years. It meant also, for the first time, that the voice of militant extremist protestantism could not be easily manipulated by the Unionist party. And it ensured the vicious combination of a fascist, anti-reformist Unionism and anti-Civil Rights alliance of the last year. The development of Paisleyite ideas in the B Specials and the R,U,C. must have been a factor in the lack of government control over their behaviour in the last year.
In the Unionist camp one had reaction and reformism. In the Catholic camp there were no less significant changes. Hitherto the only alternative to the Nationalist Party had been sporadic support for the I.R.A. (apart from Labour pockets in Belfast). This had stopped Catholics in politics becoming engaged in ordinary economic matters.
The evidence of any change in this alignment came slowly. But the immediate support for the C,R.A, campaign proved there had been a change. Firstly, the possibility of pushing O'Neillite Unionism to concede reforms must have appeared considerably less remote than the vague hope of wringing anything from Brookeborough. FUrthermore, the attitude of Lemass was radically different from de Valera. In previous decades the southern government had encouraged separatist feelings among Catholics in the North, The apostate Fianna Fail party from 1965 1968 encouraged no such feelings. The change in Sinn Fein in the South from total insistence on the border issue to socialism created a situation where Catholic politicians could emphasise, without a dissenting voice, demands based on economic oppression. When the C.R.A, took to the streets, its demands were such that Stormont could not apply the Special Powers Act and Westminster had to take notice. The forces that shook the North were waiting, too. The conflict between O'Neillism, Paisleyism, Catholic moderates and radical socialists had been coming to a head during the whole decade. The speed at which it did so was the only thing which could not have been foreseen.