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

By Thomas Wilson | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 4
NORTHERN IRELAND AND THE DEFENCE OF THE BRITISH ISLES

By CYRIL FALLS

AMONG the subjects reserved for control and legislation by the Parliament of the United Kingdom and thus beyond the purview of that of Northern Ireland are the waging of war, the making of peace, the attitude of neutrality, the raising and control of armed forces. The Northern Ireland Government is thus excluded from initiative or responsibility in the matter of defence, either in preparation or in action. When conscription for military service was introduced in Great Britain the Northern Ireland Government requested that it should be extended to Northern Ireland. The British Government refused on political grounds. It considered that conscription for service in a cause which they repudiated would so exasperate a considerable proportion of the population of Northern Ireland that it could be enforced only with great difficulty, and that the effort needed to enforce it would be so heavy that the extra military man-power thus recruited would not compensate for it. This exclusion of Northern Ireland from the application of conscription furnishes a good example of the complete control of the British Government in the most vital feature of defence.

This statutory reservation need not be taken to imply that the Northern Ireland Government has no relation to matters of defence or that it is not consulted about them. In practice its views and its advice, which may be useful because of its local knowledge and experience, are sought, and its suggestions are when possible met, as regards, let us say, the quartering of troops. In the Second World War the Government took an active part in the encouragement of recruiting on a voluntary basis within its own territory. The links between it and the Service commands which dealt with Northern Ireland were always close. Yet these are affairs of convenience and courtesy which do not involve the attributes of government. Constitutionally, the Northern Ireland Government possesses no rights or responsibilities in such business.

Thus, excluding civil affairs, the action of Northern Ireland in defence on the strictly military plane is confined to obedience to the behests and observance of the regulations of the British Government. Yet Northern

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