The Blanket

Academics on Independence
Part 1
“Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.”
- Albert Einstein
Paul A. Fitzsimmons • 21 September 2001

The several submissions I’ve penned thus far this year for The Blanket — addressing, directly or tangentially, the topic of negotiated independence for Northern Ireland — have averaged a bit under 2,000 words in length.

Fearing now that those triflingly brief pieces may have been far too short to satisfy readers interested in the possibility of fair and workable six-county independence — and realizing that I could begin to try to remedy that deficiency merely by dusting off some earlier correspondence — I decided to submit additionally to The Blanket the following letter, which examines academia’s usually, though not universally, skeptical analyses of Northern Ireland’s possible independence (all emphases herein are from the original).


August 11, 1999

Prof. Brendan O'Leary
Political Science Department
London School of Economics

Re: Northern Ireland

Dear Brendan:

As I took to heart your request that I read some of your works, but as Internet availability of them was poor, I instead recently went to the Library of Congress and got copies of The Future of Northern Ireland (1990), Explaining Northern Ireland (1995), and The Politics of Antagonism (1996) by you and Professor McGarry. Your Sharing Authority was not to be found there, and it wasn’t clear whether your 1999 work on policing had yet hit the Library’s shelves.

You suggested that, after reading these works, “you can decide whether I have made arguments that will change your mind.” You added: “Incidentally, Mill’s On Representative Government is a better book than On Liberty - do I need to say that it is an opinion?”

Recognizing your latter comment indeed to be an opinion, I nonetheless think it warrants a brief discussion, incidental though that discussion, too, may be.

In my youth, I read Mill’s On Representative Government (1861) (see my work at 141), and I remember it as being an exceptionally fine study. However, while one might opine that Hamlet is better than The Tempest, thusly comparing these two of Mill’s writings seems a bit like saying “this 1999 two-passenger luxury automobile is better than that 1998 sixty-passenger bus”: while levels of craftsmanship may be superior in the former, if one happens to have four dozen schoolchildren to transport across town, the latter will manifestly be “better.” Similarly, while Representative Government may, perhaps, reveal some greater maturity in Mill’s writing, his On Liberty (1860) well addressed various subjects not analyzed in that other work. Most particularly in that respect, the following thoughts from On Liberty come to mind from his Chapter Two:

Let us now pass to the second division of the argument, and dismissing the supposition that any of the received opinions may be false, let us assume them to be true, and examine into the worth of the manner in which they are likely to be held, when their truth is not freely and openly canvassed. However unwillingly a person who has a strong opinion may admit the possibility that his opinion may be false, he ought to be moved by the consideration that however true it may be, if it is not fully, frequently, and fearlessly discussed, it will be held as a dead dogma, not a living truth.


... [An opponent of a position] must be able to hear [arguments in favor of that position] from persons who actually believe them; who defend them in earnest, and do their very utmost for them. He must know them in their most plausible and persuasive form; he must feel the whole force of the difficulty which the true view of the subject has to encounter and dispose of; else he will never really possess himself of the portion of truth which meets and removes that difficulty. ... So essential is this discipline to a real understanding of moral and human subjects, that if opponents of all important truths do not exist, it is indispensable to imagine them, and supply them with the strongest arguments which the most skilful devil's advocate can conjure up.

In this regard, I thought it particularly interesting that Mill observed in this same Chapter Two: “If even the Newtonian philosophy were not permitted to be questioned, mankind could not feel as complete assurance of its truth as they now do.” Of course, some decades after that passage was written, Newtonian philosophies were demonstrated, by Einsteinian analyses, to be markedly inadequate. “Complete” lodestars of truth seem difficult to come by, in whatever field.

While your above-cited writings are hugely impressive in many respects—particularly in your analyses of the historical causes and nature of the overall problem—your specific discussions therein on possible independence for Northern Ireland nonetheless err, in my view, on several key points.

Appreciating, as I do from a multitude of personal experiences, that it is almost invariably off-putting to receive criticism on my own work, I can only offer here what might, unfortunately, be cold comfort regarding this important issue in which we share a substantial interest: the discussion below aims to be as specific as possible so that you, and any other informed reader, might be able to see whether my dissenting views are well- or ill-founded. As much as it pains me when I circulate a draft legal brief for review by my colleagues—only to see formerly pristine page margins return to me stained with virtual pools of red ink—nonetheless my final work is better as a result of that process; I hope you’d feel similarly.

I’d add expressly here one other key point that I’ve earlier made less direct reference to: you are among the all-too-few I’ve contacted on this topic who has had both the guts and the courtesy to take on this issue with intellectual vigor. Your having done so does yourself great credit in my view, for whatever that might be worth.

Turning to your above-referenced works, I would first reiterate something you’ve seen in my published work and in my correspondence: I make and have made no predictions of ultimate success at the polls for independence, in any given form. What is the case, though, is that the people of Northern Ireland will never be able to accept any such approach formally—nor, indeed, will they ever be able to reject any such approach formally—if none is ever formally put to them.

It is in this light particularly that I would respectfully urge that you “ought to be moved by the consideration that however true [your negative appraisal of possible independence] may be, if it is not fully, frequently, and fearlessly discussed, it will be held as a dead dogma, not a living truth.” You stated in a recent e-mail to me that “[i]f there are renewed comprehensive inter-party and inter-governmental negotiations outside the framework of the 1998 Agreement[,] I would not want to stop people considering independence.” However, I think that—unless you feel the case for independence to be nothing more than trivial, which I suspect is not your view—you would do a large service by now affirmatively helping to put your views thereon, and mine, to a public test ... a test that might, of course, prove you to be entirely correct regarding the unworkability and/or undesirability of Northern Ireland’s independence:

If independence were widely debated and analysed as a genuine option by political leaders, lawyers, economists, the media, and the general public, many more would certainly favour it, though maybe not a majority of today’s electorate.

Margaret Moore and James Crimmins, “The Case for Negotiated Independence” (“Moore and Crimmins”), in The Future of Northern Ireland (1990) (“Future”) at 246. The critical fact remains that negotiated independence has never received any formal analysis. (I stand firmly by my earlier assertion that neither your writings thereon—which I have now read—nor my own constitute “formal” analyses thereon; they are instead merely analyses by interested spectators who may or may not be correct in their respective opinions.)

Against this background, I’d first discuss substantively your own conclusions on the Moore and Crimmins paper on “imposed independence.” Deferring discussion on that paper per se until later herein, and putting to one side the “imposed” aspect thereof to which you make reference, it appears your comments thereon [in bold type, below,] may apply even to a “non-imposed” independence such as I have mooted:

[T]he success of [an independence] proposal is dependent on perceptions of its permanence. It is probable that many nationalists, especially republicans, would regard such a settlement as the first step towards a united Ireland and would still seek to bring about that goal by gun and/or ballot. If they did, Protestant paramilitaries would probably retaliate. Even low levels of violence in an independent Northern Ireland would create distrust between the two communities, presenting serious problems for a power-sharing government, even if one could be formed. Nationalist violence, for example, might produce demands for government retaliation which SDLP members of the executive would find difficult to accept. There would be no default position. For Protestants, the default position would be the imposition of majority control whereas for Catholics it would be an appeal to the Republic to complete the unfinished business of 1916-25. Therefore an independent Northern Ireland could become ungovernable and rapidly descend into civil war, with partition the most likely consequence. [Future at 294.]

As I wrote in a recent e-mail to you: “Independence would be as permanent as the new constitutional structure made it vis-à-vis the required votes for constitutional change (and, of course, there would need to be a corresponding interest in unification in the South). This fact would be clear to all who chose to vote in a plebiscite.”

Therein I also wrote: “[Your argument] assumes that Republicans in the main (particularly, of course, the PIRA) would not decide officially to accede to a fair and workable independence vis-à-vis their ‘armed struggle’; if they did not do so, however, no negotiated independence would be capable of being effected” because any such proposal would then be voted down by apprehensive Unionists.

Furthermore, your analysis assumes a “power-sharing government” which my analysis essentially rejects. As you will have seen, and rather like the NUPRG, I think a presidential system of government would be a far better system for a newly independent Northern Ireland than would be yet another variant of parliamentary democracy. The former would have in-built, due to its inherent diffusion of power, a tendency towards de facto powersharing, without the messy and divisive need to categorize oneself, either as a voter or as a politician. As you also will have seen, I yet think a system of “legislative arbitration,” as described in my work (at 148-51), would be an effective means for preventing or countering, in the first decades, tendencies towards sectarian majoritarianism.

Thus—and while, once again, I do not predict voter acceptance of any independence scheme—if a scheme along the lines of what I have suggested were accepted, its implementation would most likely not yield the problems you posit above.

Because of these[ security] dangers, neither Britain nor the Irish Republic are [sic] likely to approve such an arrangement. Other EC countries, fearful of the consequences for separatist groups within their own borders, would counsel caution. Even moderate members of the Republic’s governing élite have asserted that an independent Northern Ireland would be unworkable, and when James Callaghan put forward the option in the British House of Commons in 1981, no one embraced it. [Future at 294.]

Taking your last sentence first, my response will likely not surprise you: perhaps members of “the Republic’s governing élite” were simply wrong in their pre-1990 estimation that “an independent Northern Ireland would be unworkable” and perhaps Mr. Callaghan’s 1981 analysis was simply years ahead of its time. Perhaps—having now seen and felt two additional decades of failure on this Northern Ireland question since the time of Mr. Callaghan’s suggestion—politicians in Britain and Ireland might be more inclined to give this issue substantive consideration were “independence [not] usually dismissed[,] without much consideration[,] as unrealistic” due to “prevailing and often unquestioned orthodox[ies]” thereon. Moore and Crimmins at 243.

Your first sentence above is largely addressed in my preceding text: if it appeared that independence would gain express—if, perhaps, unenthusiastic—Republican support, then security concerns might be considerably lessened.

Your middle sentence on EU concerns is very well taken: it seems most likely that the EU would need to take this opportunity to decide how a secession from one of its member countries would be treated. Earlier this year, I suggested to my Labour contacts that the following test might be approved: if two-thirds or more of the voters in the “parent” portion of a state and two-thirds or more in the seceding portion thereof each approved a planned secession, then the seceding portion should be admitted—on some basis—as an EU member.[1] (As detailed in my book at 166-70, this new admission might in Ireland’s case have to involve the Republic’s essentially “sharing” some EU powers with the new Northern state.) I concur unreservedly that, if these EU issues were not worked out adequately, the whole independence venture would likely fail.

(Also in your The Future of Northern Ireland are others’ discussions of possible independence, but these discussions are comparatively minor. Anthony Coughlin, in arguing for “A Unitary Irish State,” writes little more than a polemic against any other “possible alternative policies.” Id. at 64. Regarding possible independence, that paper cavalierly assumes resultant “repartition”; “mass population movements”; opposition by the Republic, Northern Nationalists, the U.S., and the “rest of the international community” including EU members; “an Orange junta” government; and economic unviablity. Id. Liam Kennedy’s four-sentence discussion of “the notion of an independent Ulster” (within his discussion of “Repartition,” id. at 138) and the Boyle-Hadden single sentence thereon (in the course of their attempt towards “Restoring the Momentum of the[ir] Anglo-Irish Agreement,” id. at 192) are rather more dispassionate than Mr. Coughlin’s piece but not more insightful. (Regarding that Boyle-Hadden view, see my work at 176 n.27, discussing their similar pronouncement in their 1985 Ireland: A Positive Proposal.))

Your Explaining Northern Ireland (1995) (“Explaining”) addresses only briefly possible independence. After appropriately criticizing the well-intentioned but manifoldly inadequate work thereon by Dervla Murphy, you assert that there are “good grounds for believing that an independent Northern Ireland would be disastrous, leading to a Bosnian scenario complete with ethnic cleansing and partition” (at 347); in an endnote thereto, you reference as support therefor but three other works which you and your collaborators authored. (I’d add that you could have “cf.”-cited Messrs. Hume and O’Malley on how a unilateral declaration of independence would likely engender a similar scenario (see my work at 133 n.6 and 189 n.35.))

Regarding the potential Bosnia-like scene you painted, I may have already mentioned to you that Professor Rose made related comments in a May 1999 letter to me; here’s how I responded to him:

Although you are, of course, quite correct in observing that the IRA has not taken up guns to obtain an independent Northern Ireland, you go on to write: “While Protestants might accept an independent Northern Ireland, the Republican movement would settle for ‘Brits out’ plus a 32-county Ireland — whose unity would be far from complete.” (Emphasis in original.) Were such the case, it would seem to present an a fortiori case for the failure of the Good Friday Agreement, as Republicans would thereunder obtain neither “Brits out” nor a 32-county Ireland. However, and as reflected at pages 197-204, I have long felt that, if truly “fair and workable,” the new context of Northern independence would present a situation wherein the Republican movement would not be able to sustain its “armed struggle,” basically for two reasons. First, whom would Republicans bomb and to what end?[2] Second, and perhaps more to the point, if indeed a plebiscite were ever developed such that a polling date was imminent, the public would vociferously ask whether that scheme would suffice; unless the “P. O’Neill” response was unequivocally affirmative, indicating too that decommissioning would timeously follow, it seems rather likely that Republicans could and would thereby indirectly “veto” independence by scaring away Unionists who might otherwise be inclined to vote in favor; yet, in this light and as suggested in the introduction to my enclosed letter of the twenty-third to Dr. FitzGerald (with whom I corresponded substantively during the second half of 1997), I would urge[ the basketball philosophy]: “Never up, never in.”

Closely related to these thoughts are yours (Explaining at 379) on the “crucial” need for cross-border institutions:

The most urgent priority here is to establish all-Ireland cross-border co-operation and British-Irish co-operation, especially in policy functions affected by the European Union. It is the former which will be the most problematic. It is crucial for the nationalist minority that there be some institutional link between Northern Ireland and the Republic. Indeed it is considered a litmus test of any successful settlement by many Irish nationalists and will therefore be critical to the passage of amendments to Articles 2 and 3 in a referendum in the Republic. It is unlikely that any settlement could endure without cross-border institutions of some kind — if it could get off the ground at all. There are a number of formats such an all-Ireland institution could take, and it would be best if these are not seen as guaranteeing any creeping political unification of Ireland.

This analysis makes a fair amount of sense if one assumes that negotiated independence is impossible; if that assumption is in error, though, the overall analysis may itself be in error. Again referencing your thoughts on a Bosnia-like result, please bear in mind the accurate Moore and Crimmins statement: “The removal of the British presence resulting from independence would achieve the Provisional IRA’s goal of ‘Brits out’ and would remove a fundamental part of its raison d’être.” Future at 251. It might be that fair and workable negotiated independence would be victory enough both to end the battle and to obviate the need for forcing cross-border bodies upon unwilling Northern Protestants.[3]

Regarding possible independence as discussed in The Politics of Antagonism (1996) (“Politics”), your earlier-stated assumption on the “probable” inadequacy of independence from the Republican perspective (Future at 294) becomes unqualified: “[S]ince some republicans would see independence as a half-way house to Irish unity, the IRA would continue its campaign for a united Ireland after the Great British had gone.” Politics at 285. As reflected in my above-quoted comments to Professor Rose, this assumption may be just plain wrong; moreover, the PIRA could be put to a definitive test on this point by working up a proposal and seeing whether that group had the courage to speak on it forthrightly and, if so, by hearing their view on it: i.e., whether such independence would or would not suffice to end its battle. Having scrutinized public pronouncements by Republicans over the past several years particularly, I think one would be hard-pressed to conclude that a fair and workable independence would be out of the question in their overall view; indeed, the apparently favorable Republican disposition generally towards the Good Friday Agreement scheme suggests rather strongly that that movement has some flexibility in acceding to constitutional schemes short of unification.

Your Politics of Antagonism discussion on independence presents additional items with which I would also take issue.

First, you cite (at 284-85) a then-eight-year-old, now eleven-year-old study by Robin Wilson of Fortnight in support of the notion that

independence is strongly opposed by the vast majority of the electorate within Northern Ireland. It was the first preference of 7 per cent of Protestants and 4 per cent of Catholics in a poll reported in April 1988, and acceptable to only a further 11 per cent of Protestants and 4 per cent of Catholics (Wilson, 1988).

Mr. Wilson, as I have learned firsthand, is so dead-set against the notion of independence that he—in direct contrast to you—won’t even engage in an intellectually honest discussion thereon (as documented particularly through his and my participation in Dr. deBono’s 1997 Internet conference on Northern Ireland, portions of which I have included in earlier e-mail transmissions to you; those conference submissions may yet be available in full on the Internet), this notwithstanding the fact that he heads a political think-tank calling itself, for some reason, “Democratic Dialogue.” Therefore, I would greet with skepticism most of what Mr. Wilson might assert on this point.

However, assuming arguendo that those data were valid in 1988, it is not difficult to see why such a poll on independence would have received such low approval, based upon your own analysis of the assumptions that those poll participants would indeed naturally have tended to make:

Most unionists reject independence because it would mean they would no longer be British, and leave them bereft of the material benefits of the British connection, whereas nationalists reject it both because they would not be part of the Irish Republic and because they would be a minority within the new state.

(At 285 (footnote omitted).) What, though, would Unionists’ reactions have been had they been told, accurately, that any such independence would mean (a) that they and their progeny could remain full British citizens and (b) that British subsidies of the region would continue for some long period of time? How would Nationalists have reacted had they been told, accurately, that any such independence would mean (a) that they and their progeny could remain full Republic of Ireland citizens and (b) that the new regional government would transparently offer them a genuine opportunity for full political participation? Moreover, it is rather difficult to accept that people stopped on a Belfast street corner by a pollster would have an adequate chance to grasp and digest novel concepts such as these. However, were these concepts actually integrated into a proposal formally put to that electorate, we could all then see what their considered responses would be.

Yet, even without an opportunity for such better-informed consideration of these possibilities, the most current data I am aware of on this point indicate that Northern Ireland has warmed a bit to the idea of possible independence. In an April 1997 QUB/Belfast Telegraph poll—which I referenced in an earlier e-mail message—50 percent of Ulster Protestants and 48 percent of Ulster Catholics stated that they would at least “tolerate” independence. Assuming this poll to be accurate, it seems virtually impossible that those numbers would decline if that populace saw developed a proposal which indeed adequately addressed important “logistical” considerations, including those discussed above. Were such a proposal well formulated, ultimate approval in the polling booths might reach a two-thirds or three-fourths level, however fantastic that assertion may appear at first glance.

At the end of your Politics of Antagonism discussion of independence, you refer to that option as “unthinkable” for British and Irish policymakers (at 285), as you had done at the beginning of this decade (Future at 303 n.22). My dictionary offers two definitions of “unthinkable”: “1: not capable of being grasped by the mind 2: being contrary to what is reasonable, desirable, or probable: being out of the question.” Of course, I surmise you intended the latter meaning in your assessments, but—and without trying to be facetious—perhaps the former definition is closer to the mark: maybe those policymakers just don’t get it. (Rather poorly, I have attempted for some time to address that concern by trying to cultivate contacts among British Isles political groups and by variously transmitting my all-too-verbose thoughts thereon; I recognize well that I may indeed fail in this effort—because my ideas are either inadequate or wrong or badly presented, or, perhaps, for other reasons—but I take some meager solace in the view that I will not have failed for want of trying.)

Please permit me to return now to Moore and Crimmins. Unsurprisingly, as they did a fine job advocating a position that I have myself been advocating, I agree with much of what they wrote in the work you edited. Already quoted above are various excerpts therefrom with which I agree; though tempted to reference many other of their passages, I’ll quote just three more here:

The risk of continuing or increased violence in an independent Northern Ireland has also to be balanced against the dangers involved in accepting the only other options available. There will almost certainly be a full-scale civil war if any attempt is made to force one million Protestants into a united Ireland. On the other hand, the death-toll will continue to mount if the British[ political presence] remain[s] in Northern Ireland. [At 253 (endnote omitted).]

The danger of losing the[ British] subvention is often used by academics and politicians to discredit serious discussion of any option that does not include continued membership in the UK. However, we would argue that it is highly unlikely that Britain would grant independence to Northern Ireland without agreeing to continue the subsidies. ... Other sources, such as the USA and EC, would probably be willing to share the burden of aid as the price of a durable peace in an area of some strategic importance. [At 255.]

At the moment[ i.e., in 1990,] neither the British nor Irish Governments seem inclined to take the resolute steps required to establish a stable independent Northern Ireland. But such steps are not as inconceivable as the critics of independence suggest, and th[ose steps] may be discussed more seriously as the futility of the alternatives becomes increasingly apparent. [At 257-58 (emphasis added).]

Furthermore, I’d agree to a certain extent with the following:

The most desirable way to proceed towards an independent Northern Ireland would be for the communal leaders in the province to take the first step. They could hold negotiations to establish if a consensus existed. If such a consensus emerged and looked stable, there would be tremendous pressure on the London and Dublin governments to welcome and assist the establishment of an independent state.

It must be conceded, however, that under the present circumstances there is no realistic possibility of such a spontaneous agreement emerging. [At 245.]

Although, because “there is no realistic possibility of such a spontaneous agreement emerging,” the point is most probably moot, I nonetheless would disagree with any notion that some sort of pre-plebiscite local consensus would need to be established as a prerequisite to further analysis. (Cf. my work at 162.)

Where I rather strenuously disagree, though, with Moore and Crimmins is regarding their assertion that, to produce a stable and prosperous Northern Ireland, London and Dublin “would have to proceed in the following way”:

First, the British government would have to agree to withdraw from Northern Ireland at a fixed date in the future, allowing a sufficient transition period for it to develop support for the concept in Northern Ireland. ... The British government would have to inform the [constitutional] conference that it would withdraw at the end of the transitional period, whether or not an agreement was reached, leaving the northern Irish to fend for themselves. Secondly, the British government would have to proclaim its willingness to continue its present policy of subsidizing the economy of Northern Ireland for a period of fifteen to twenty years. ... Thirdly, the Republic of Ireland would have to withdraw its constitutional claim to Northern Ireland and agree to sponsor, or at least refrain from vetoing, the new state’s application for membership of the European Community (EC). ... Finally, the two governments would have to facilitate internal accommodation by making their sponsorship of the new state conditional upon the Protestant majority agreeing to the establishment of a constitution acceptable to the Catholic minority. [At. 246-47.]

I think this “imposed independence” approach would entail at least two substantial problems.

First, and especially in light of “stability” concerns elsewhere discussed, it would not be credible that Britain and the Republic would walk away from Northern Ireland, without a constitution in place there, and simply let the locals “fend for themselves.” Relatedly, what would happen if the Protestant and Catholic communities could not come to terms on the shape of a new constitution? Would that event cause Britain to reassess its “withdrawal” statement? (It is rather easy to imagine Britain thereupon urging with all solemnity: “This seventh deadline for agreeing on a new constitution is absolutely, finally, really, no-kiddingly the ‘last-chance saloon’ for agreement ... unless, of course, that deadline passes without agreement and we then determine, through our fine political judgment, that more time is needed.”)

Second, and in line with basic human nature, this “forcing” process regarding independence could cause Northern Irelanders to recoil reflexively from an overall approach that they might voluntarily choose if given the opportunity. At very least in the context of a proposal for Northern Ireland’s independence, I think the Ulster populace needs—and deserves—to be treated like an intelligent group of people facing a difficult and critical decision regarding their future. If a genuinely good, just, and workable plan for independence were honestly presented them, it does not seem to me ridiculous to suppose that they would scrupulously consider whether to make the substantial sacrifices necessary to implement it. However, today as fifteen years ago, I would argue that the ultimate choice would and should be their own.


As I wrap up what is easily the longest letter I have written outside of the course of my formal legal practice, please permit me a couple of concluding thoughts.

In earlier correspondence with you, I argued that—when the Good Friday Agreement is finally put out of its misery—negotiated independence should be affirmatively considered before an option like possible joint sovereignty is further considered; in support for that position, I suggested that the former could be fully and finally vetted and voted upon within the course of about a year whereas the latter “might only engender and entail another decade or two or more of mild misery for most and not-so-mild misery for others.”

From, inter alia, having read “Pain-killers, Panaceas and Solvents: Explanations and Prescriptions” in Explaining Northern Ireland, I get the distinct impression that your suggestions on joint authority would involve the British and Irish governments issuing their respective fiats to effect that result. Cf. id. at 380 (“It is possible that it might be judged that [cross-border] institutions could not achieve majority support in a Northern Ireland referendum. ... [One] possibility would be to establish British-Irish bodies mandated by the sovereign governments which would not be in [a] constitutional package submitted to the electorate in Northern Ireland.”).

As a result, I would raise an additional argument here for attempting independence before joint authority: it must make great and good sense to try an approach that would be founded, if at all, upon the agreement of Northern Irelanders before trying an approach that, for better or worse, would be imposed upon them by London and/or Dublin.

Finally, I offer an update on your one of your texts. You began your above-referenced 1995 “Pain-killers” chapter, from your Explaining Northern Ireland, with a 1971 quote from the esteemed Professor Rose: “In the foreseeable future, no solution is immediately practical.”

Six weeks ago, over a cool drink on the shank of a hot Washington, D.C. afternoon, Professor Rose unsolicitedly opined to me that independence might have a one-in-three chance of success. I hasten to add that I doubt he meant that statement literally: odds-making in this context is certainly beyond my ken, and I scarcely believe he thereby intended to “make book” on that possibility. I do think, though, that his comment reflected his belief, like the beliefs of Moore and Crimmins, that whatever perhaps inestimable “chance” this approach might in fact have, possible negotiated independence is neither a slight nor an implausible consideration—a thought with which I hope you would agree—and, perhaps, one that is typically underrated.

I thank you again sincerely, both for your earlier courtesies and for your large and patient attention herein.

Best regards,


Paul A. Fitzsimmons



(by e-mail and airmail)
Dr. James Crimmins
College Administrator
Huron College
The University of Western Ontario

(by e-mail and airmail)
Margaret R. Moore, Ph.D.
Associate Professor
Department of Political Science
University of Waterloo

(by e-mail and airmail)
Prof. John F. McGarry
Department of Political Science
University of Waterloo

(by airmail)
Prof. Richard Rose
Director of CSPP
University of Strathclyde


[1]One contact suggested to me that this approach would constitute an infringement of British sovereignty, which is plainly in error. As I told him in reply, at issue would be EU membership, not any country’s sovereignty. Any portion of any EU country would remain free to split from its parent, according to whatever terms each part might agree upon; thus, sovereignty would remain entirely a matter of “local” concern. However, it would and should remain for the EU members themselves to decide upon what standards a newly independent seceding region would become eligible for EU membership; control of membership in this respect is no more an infringement of sovereignty than would be the EU’s deciding whether Canada or New Zealand or India might become EU members.

[2]Cf. the Moore and Crimmins comment (at 252-53) on possible post-independence violence by Protestant paramilitary groups and by Northern paramilitaries as a whole:

It could be argued that a British unilateral severance of the Union[ aiming for the establishment of an independent Northern state] would provoke a loyalist armed rebellion, such as occurred in 1912 with the organization of the UVF. But a rebellion against whom or what? ...
Independence, unlike any other option, would present both sets of paramilitaries with a quid pro quo, with both being able to claim a sort of victory.

[3]On these rather interrelated topics—and supporting your assessment of the importance of this cross-border institutions issue (at least in the absence of negotiated independence)—I think that the tenuousness of those institutions in the Good Friday Agreement scheme is a main reason, and perhaps the largest reason, for the PIRA’s refusal to begin decommissioning; in another context, I wrote the following in June:

[T]hough little discussed, the inherent structure of the GFA’s “Strand Two” portion on North/South governmental bodies may have presented a no less difficult “decommissioning” issue for Republicans, as those cross-border bodies appeared to constitute the bare minimum political “exchange” for obtaining a negotiated end to this “war.” Had militant Republicans signaled their full acceptance of the Good Friday scheme[ by beginning their decommissioning process], Unionists might thereafter have been quite tempted to gut—to the considerable extent that they would have been lawfully able—the scheme’s planned North/South structures, as those structures are typically undesired or even detested within Unionism. (In this setting, any theoretical ability to petition London and/or Dublin to override later “cross-border” decisions of duly-appointed Unionist officials could offer Republicans but scant reassurance.) It therefore seemed quite unlikely that militant Republicans would have agreed, without qualification, to a new government lacking any track record but within which that one “green” concession might later have been essentially eviscerated.
Thus, the key GFA dispute, while often simply described as concerning “decommissioning,” was more accurately rooted in the following question: would the bulk of Northern Ireland’s militant Republican movement permanently, unqualifiedly, and immediately accept the constitutional scheme devised in the Good Friday Agreement? For Unionists, the answer to that question had to have been expressly “yes” for a powersharing executive to include Sinn Féin, but Republicans’ at least implicit answer thereto was, and is apparently still, “no.” For that reason alone—and because the June 1998 election results left the UUP little maneuvering room—it was reasonably apparent since the third quarter of last year that there would be no negotiated resolution to this impasse (absent a “capitulation” by one side or the other, which of course did not occur).





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Openly questioning the way the world works and challenging the power of the powerful is not an activity customarily rewarded.
- Dale Spender

Index: Current Articles

22 September 2002


Other Articles From This Issue:


Pipedream Peace
Joe Graham


Can The Course of Labour Afford to Wait?
Billy Mitchell


Easily Annoyed
Peter Urban


Academics on Independence, Part 1

Paul Fitzsimmons


Sabra & Shatila

Anthony McIntyre


Palestine & Iraq
Brendan Hughes


Not In Our Name
Davy Carlin


Death Fasts and Oppression Continue in Turkey


19 September 2002


Belfast's "Poor White Trash" and the Dead Dogmas of the Past
Brian Kelly


Top Cat

Anthony McIntyre


Lower Than The Lowest of the Low
Liam O Ruairc


Civil Rights Vets Launch Status Campaign
Fionnbarra Ó Dochartaigh


Peace Rather than Pipedreams
Sean Smyth


Bush War
Anthony McIntyre




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