My name is Marc Mulholland. I am a Fellow (lecturer and tutor) in the History Faculty of Oxford University. My College is St Catherine's. I come from Ireland.

This is a blog relating to my book published in 2012 by Oxford University Press, Bourgeois Liberty and the Politics of Fear: From Absolutism to Neo-Conservativism.
Now on sale here and here. If you want 20 per cent off the price, I can arrange that! Send me a message or leave a comment, and I'll tell you how.

The thesis my book is examining was rather pithily summarised by Leon Trotsky in 1939: "Wherever the proletariat appeared as an independent force, the bourgeoisie shifted to the camp of the counter-revolution. The bolder the struggle of the masses, the quicker the reactionary transformation of liberalism." [Context is here]

However, my book isn't a defence of Trotskyism, or indeed any particular ideology. It's a study of an idea that took shape in Left, Right, and Centre variations.

This blog has tid-bits not included in the book, and other thoughts that occur.

You can see book details at the
OUP website.

Saturday, 29 September 2012

Fifty Years Ago: The Ulster Covenant and the Green-Orange Talks

It's the 100th anniversary of Ulster Day, when much of protestant Ulster pledged against Home Rule for Ireland. Many thousands are marching today in Northern Ireland to commemorate the event.

Here's a little article by me on the 50th anniversary of Ulster Day, back in 1962:

The fiftieth anniversary of the 1912 Ulster Covenant was welcomed with solemn commemoration and massive popular celebration. It also saw a remarkable and little remembered attempt to grasp the nettle of Ulster’s divided society: ‘The Orange-Green Talks’ of 1962-3.

By 1962 the IRA’s ‘BorderCampaign’ had clearly run into the sand. The opposition Nationalist Party drifted directionless. Sill, all was not rosy for Ulster Unionism. Stormont’s attempts to wring more funds from the British exchequer were going badly. Unemployment in Northern Ireland hovered around 8 percent, a disastrous total when Great Britain still basked in the great post-war boom.

The Ulster Unionist Party comfortably won the Stormont general election held in May 1962. But this masked a severe slippage in the Unionist vote. The Northern Ireland Labour Party vote reached 26 percent, 16 percent higher than in 1958, and they came close to the Unionist total in Belfast.

Commemoration of the Ulster Covenant, therefore, was not simply a sacred duty for the Unionist Party. It was also a welcome distraction. The Ulster Government set 29 September as the official day of commemoration, and Governor Lord Wakehurst, for the Crown, declared it a public holiday. Organisation for the day was put in the hands of an Ulster Covenant Jubilee Committee, made up of the Ulster Unionist Council, local Unionist Associations, and the Orange Order. A glossy 69 page souvenir booklet was published, and a historical documentary for television broadcast produced.

Lord Brookeborough addressed a Banquet dinner at Belfast City hall on the evening of 28 September. His emphasis was on Northern Ireland’s economic anxieties and its dependence upon the Union:

In common with all our fellow British citizens, we are standing at the gate of the unknown. Whether in or out of the Common Market our trading patterns will be in the future subject to far-reaching change. There are two vital factors which will govern our future wellbeing – our continued existence as part of the United Kingdom, and the resolution, resource and energy which we ourselves apply to our own local problems.

Major demonstrations were held on 29 September in Belfast, Castledawson, and Ballymena. Special trains and coaches brought in Orange members from across the six counties, also from Dublin, Cork, Cavan and Donegal. It was estimated that 100,000 marched. The procession in Belfast, from Carlisle Circus to Balmoral Showgrounds - marched past at eight deep – twice that normal for the Twelfth – and took two hours pass. Historical UVF  battalion flags were held aloft and orange rosettes worn.

At Balmoral the famous 1912 Union Flag, the largest in existence, was unfurled by Brookeborough. The crowd took a re-dedication oath that included an echo of the Gettysburg Address: “that this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom, and that Government of the Ulster people, by the Ulster people, for the Ulster people, within the United Kingdom shall not perish from the earth.”

The most striking platform speech was made by Senator Sir George Clarke, Grand Master of the Orange Order, when he called for community reconciliation:

We will have failed our children if we do not ensure the structure and policies that will bring a calmer climate in politics - and perhaps in its wake, peace in the world. It is our duty as citizens to strive ceaselessly to ensure a better understanding of each other’s problems, not only in our day, but in those of our children.

It seemed an unlikely occasion for extending the olive branch. Why did he do so? Certainly it owed something to an increased awareness of the problem of community relations. Denis Barrett and Charles Carter had recently completed their landmark exposé of Ulster’s deep-seated problems: The Northern Ireland Problem: A study of Group Relations. As Unionists celebrated, this book was being serialised in the Belfast Telegraph.

The fact that a British Minister, R.A.B. Butler, had recently met with a Nationalist Party delegation to hear complaints of discrimination – the first such meeting in 25 years – suggested that Northern Ireland’s dirty laundry risked being exposed to outsiders.

In August 1962, Senator Joseph Lennon, a leading Nationalist, in a speech to an Ancient Order of Hibernian’s rally, had proposed to meet Sir George Clark for talks. “Such discussions,” he believed, “should go far towards dispelling the clouds of bitterness which for so long have darkened politics in this area and could do much to bring in the light of toleration and mutual respect.” To general surprise, Sir George Clark had agreed to private but formal discussions “relating to the good will of Ulster’s people.”

Within a short time, however, dissent bubbled up. Norman Porter, previously an Independent Unionist M.P. for Clifton, doubted that his side could possibly benefit: “I cannot see any value in having the talks, because the only basis on which the Nationalists will have negotiations is of them gaining something and us losing something.” Nevertheless, Clark did meet Lennon, in secret, on 18 October 1962.

In January 1963 the Orange Order appointed representatives to meet with Lennon, along with Stormont MPs Eddie McAteer and Cahir Healy of the Nationalist Party. Orange representatives were Clark, H. Burdge (Grand Secretary), Rev. Brown (Grand Chaplain) and Richard Thorton.

By February 1963, however, it was clear that fundamental problems had arisen. A five point agenda submitted by the Nationalist delegation included references to discrimination in employment and housing. It was thought by the Grand Lodge that to discuss such allegations would be to admit their basis in fact. This was deemed unacceptable. Further discussions between Clark and Lennon in June 1963 failed to cut the Gordian knot.

Shortly after this failed summit, an ultimatum was sent to the Green representatives. The Orange delegation refused to discuss any agenda without a prior formal recognition of the legitimacy of the Northern Ireland state. This the Nationalists refused.

All the while Unionist leaders had stayed silent, and now the process was allowed to peter out. The attempt at reconciliation from the traditional bastions of sectarian community organisation had failed. Indeed, it had barely registered in political life.

Things had changed, however. In March 1963, Terence O’Neill had become Stormont Prime Minister. He was determined to improve community relations. The failure of the ‘Orange-Green Talks’, however, showed only too clearly that he had a mountain to climb.


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