The Blanket

Dr. Ruth Inexpert On
Sexy “Irish State” Controversy

Paul A. Fitzsimmons • 26 November 2002

As others have done, Ruth Dudley Edwards -- self-professedly both friend of David Trimble and reader of The Blanket -- addressed the dustup involving what Mr. Ahern has termed an insincere “single transferable speech,” given by Northern Ireland’s former First Minister on this most recent occasion to newspaper reporters in Chicago.

Dr. Edwards wrote in the Belfast Telegraph: “After an uncharacteristically incoherent introduction about how the Union Jack is slighted in Ireland[, Mr. Trimble] said: ‘If you took away Catholicism and anti-Britishness, the state doesn’t have a reason to exist. Its institutions are British and American.’”

Her opinion thereon was that “what David Trimble said is true,” and she asserted that those critical of his assessment were “talking rubbish.”

In trying to support that case, however, Dr. Edwards raised some rather facile, and indeed false, points. Among them, she claimed that Mr. Trimble “should know by now that if a unionist ever says anything about the Irish Republic or Catholics without genuflecting, cries of nationalist outrage will echo round the world.”

A bit more substantively, Dr. Edwards sided with Mr. Trimble-whom she has earlier described as being “as long on realism as [he is] short on meaningless rhetoric”-by asserting: “Now why is there an Irish state? Because the vast majority of the Irish people held on to their Catholicism and disliked their rulers because they were a) Protestant and b) foreign, i.e. British, or English or Saxon or Gall (Irish for ‘foreigner’, but applied almost exclusively to our non-Celtic neighbours) or however our poets, politicians and revolutionaries chose to describe the enemy.”

Certainly there have been, on both sides, emotional, chauvinistic, and sectarian aspects to the centuries long British-Irish tensions and conflicts.

Nonetheless, Dr. Edwards greatly erred in trying to support her friend, in this manner, regarding his assertions in Chicago.

Why, actually, is there an Irish state? Three valid points present themselves immediately (though others, certainly, might be added).

Point one: there is in humankind an impulse towards self-government. Indeed that impulse, upon which the sun never sets, manifested itself in and through the fall of the British empire. (It might be noted in this respect that, although Catholics composed over seventy-five percent of Ireland’s population in the eighteenth century, religious exclusionary laws meant that neither Ireland’s House of Commons nor its House of Lords contained a single Catholic. Nevertheless, by the Irish legislature’s two-to-one vote, the nation of Ireland ostensibly ceased being on 1 January 1801, and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland was that day officially born. Thus, that political union by no means exampled true “self-government” in Ireland.)

Point two: for two and a half centuries at least, civil governance by or with monarchies has been innately and ineluctably inferior to governance through well-crafted republics. See especially the writings thereon of Englishman Thomas Paine. Put rather simply, people in republics have the right and the power to “throw the bastards out” every few years; conversely, people in hereditary monarchies may be stuck for centuries with an at best mediocre breed of “sovereigns.” Irish nationalism, by no means an exclusively Irish Catholic phenomenon, is and has long been, inter alia, a manifestation of these facts.

Point three: established state religions, perhaps in all cases a poor idea, are especially bad where sizable dissenting minorities have felt thereby oppressed. Relatedly, in response to Mr. Trimble’s Chicago comments, Mr. Mick Finnegan of Dublin recently observed in a letter to the Irish News: “The head of Mr Trimble’s state must be a Protestant ... and head of a Church established by the state”; Mr. Finnegan might also have correctly referenced the constitutional impossibility of any British head of state even being married to a Catholic. Regarding this unarguably and perhaps preeminently sectarian aspect of United Kingdom society, the Rt. Rev. Mark Santer, the Church of England Bishop of Birmingham, called in March 2002 for the end of the ties between the United Kingdom government and the Church of England; Mr. Trimble, a Westminster M.P. and Nobel Prize laureate, might have publicly added his voice to Bishop Santer’s brave call, but-notwithstanding his apparent disdain for “Catholic sectarianism”-he did not do so.
Centuries ago, and rather more succinctly, the French distilled these political ideas and ideals as “liberty, equality, and fraternity.”

Thus, the question “why is there an Irish state?” might well be answered: “Basically for the same reasons that there is an American state.” Maybe those reasons are inadequate in Dr. Edwards’ eyes, but a great many millions would beg to differ, and a great many of them would do so not with outrage but with, frankly, a measure of pity.

Politely yet repeatedly, Dr. Edwards has herself rejected my requests for assistance in trying to investigate formally whether a fair and workable negotiated independence might be feasible and broadly acceptable in Northern Ireland, especially in the wake of this latest and perhaps final failure of the Good Friday Agreement.

In that I believe she has substantial intellectual potential, I hope she’ll one day reconsider those requests and reverse her position. After all, even her friend David Trimble-as a Queen’s University of Belfast teacher in 1988, before he succumbed completely to the political bug-publicly (if, perhaps, hyperbolically) asserted that Northern Ireland’s independence was an “inevitability.”

However, I’d accept that-if Dr. Edwards does genuinely feel that Ireland’s southern twenty-six counties should properly have been populated only with docile subjects of the English crown-she’ll not invidiously discriminate in that respect regarding Ireland’s northeast six.


Washington, D.C. lawyer Paul A. Fitzsimmons wrote Independence for Northern Ireland: Why and How (1993) (



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