Ulster under Home Rule: A Study of the Political and Economic Problems of Northern Ireland

By Thomas Wilson | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 3
THE POLITICAL PARTIES AND THE SOCIAL BACKGROUND

By JOHN E. SAYERS

ULSTER Unionism does not fall into any of the political categories with which the observer in Great Britain is familiar. Particular local stresses have given it a characteristic form embracing a whole community of people who might otherwise be ranged from the Right to the Left. The term Unionism does not connote alone the unity of the kingdom: it represents also the coalescence in a single party of Conservatives and breakaway Liberals who first took up the Ulster cause when Home Rule was proposed for Ireland as a whole. In course of time a continuing preoccupation with Partition, as well as the responsibility of Government, has tended to overlay the strongly radical element contributed to the alliance by the Liberals, but the spirit of the party is none the less foreign to the oligarchic conceptions of the extreme Right Wing of Toryism. Yet this term in its more hoary and unyielding sense is often applied to the party by its opponents at home and some of its critics elsewhere. These are doubtless encouraged to think on such lines by the now traditional closeness of the association between the party organisation and the Conservative and Unionist Party in Great Britain, and the inclusion in its ranks of many important employers of labour. Colour is also given even to a belief in the existence of a semi-dictatorship by the fact that Unionism has been in power since 1921 without any material reduction in the strength of its hold. But the varied impressions of this kind that are current fail to allow for the fact that the party is one composed of all levels of society to a degree not often encountered in Parliamentary democracies. Nor has the fusion of classes been brought about solely by a common loyalty to country and religion, powerful as this influence can be; the nature of the party derives from the character of the people themselves. Such solidarity, together with the absence of marked class distinctions, has given the vital strength to the stand for self-determination.

This is no more than the lesson of history. The Scots who settled in the North of Ireland and became its dominant strain were in some ways strongly individualistic, but they were a disciplined race accustomed to governing themselves through the Presbyterian synods. By reason of the

-55-

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