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

By Thomas Wilson | Go to book overview

INTRODUCTION

IN terms of law and government, though in such terms alone, the country about which this book has been written was established by Act of Parliament thirty-five years ago. Its constitution, the political forms to which that constitution gives legal force, the territorial limits within which it applies are all laid down by the Government of Ireland Act, 1920. Northern Ireland, it was then enacted, 'shall consist of the Parliamentary counties of Antrim, Armagh, Down, Fermanagh, Londonderry and Tyrone, and the Parliamentary boroughs of Belfast and Londonderry'. In the territory so defined, the Act established 'a Parliament consisting of His Majesty, the Senate of Northern Ireland, and the House of Commons of Northern Ireland'.

Outwardly, at least, the political entity thus brought into being wore a strange and novel aspect. It still continued, as it still does, to form part of the United Kingdom, the new designation of which as 'The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland' connotes an unbroken and unbreakable connection. Yet within that connection Northern Ireland as a political, administrative and legal unit is characteristically and clearly distinguishable from all the rest. Though severed politically from the other three Provinces of the island to which geographically it belongs, it is nevertheless not co-extensive with the fourth, the historic Province of Ulster, of which it has lost the three outermost counties of Monaghan, Cavan and Donegal. While it owed much in origin to the Plantation of Ulster in the seventeenth century, its greatest strength to-day lies in the counties of Antrim and Down, which, though colonised, were not formally planted counties, whereas Cavan and Donegal were. Its six counties do not coincide with those of the Plantation. The Border, sinuously following their boundaries, three times as long as the direct distance from Newry to Londonderry at its two extremities, makes the shape of the Province look as though it had been carved out in a haphazard, even arbitrary, fashion.

The impression thus created that Northern Ireland is an anomalous and almost artificial creation seems strengthened when its statutory foundation is more closely examined. Unlike every other British territory on which self-governing powers have been conferred, it can point to no constituent Act or other instrument enacted for that sole and specific purpose, framed at its own request, related to itself alone, and fashioned in detail to meet its own interests and needs. The Act of 1920

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