THE most senior Catholic civil servant in Stormont in 1982 sent a private six-page analysis of Catholic views, arguing that an expression of Irishness and a desire for a united Ireland should not lead to them being seen as disloyal.
Maurice Hayes, who would go on to become an independent member of the Irish Senate, wrote the February 8 memo to Sir Ewart Bell under the title ‘Fodder for a Farrow-Devouring Sow’, a reference to James Joyce’s description of Ireland as “a sow that eats her own farrow”.
In the detailed exposition of Catholic attitudes and aspirations, Dr Hayes expressed fears that the SDLP was increasingly moving to more hardline positions in an attempt “not to be outbid” by the IRA and other republicans.
The document, marked ‘confidential’, stemmed from a discussion at a (unspecified) meeting and was also written after Dr Hayes had read the note of a meeting between Secretary of State Jim Prior and the SDLP.
He told Sir Ewart: “Minority rights, group identity or the Irish dimension are not the universal staple of conversation in most Catholic homes. As with the population in general, they do talk about jobs and social and economic conditions to a degree not reflected in the SDLP representations.”
Dr Hayes went on: “Most Catholics, if pushed hard enough, would deny the possibility of ‘democracy’ of a simple head-counting type in the Northern Ireland context, arguing that the border was drawn with a careful eye to the numerical ratio of adherents to the two main constitutional allegiances.
“However, the more they can secure fair play and a dignified place in the system, the more they are likely to tolerate what they see as the defective nature of the calculus which got them there in the first place.”
He said that “the more the majority is prepared to be generous, and to grant a place to the minority, the less insecure and alienated the minority feels”.
But Dr Hayes added that there were questions of “attitude”, which are “very difficult to provide by legislation”, which were crucial to helping Catholics feel at home in Northern Ireland.
He said it was made particularly difficult when “the majority of politicians use a rhetoric which indicates a siege mentality”.
He added: “It is an over-simplification to assume that Catholics form a homogeneous group whose aspirations and desire for self-expression can be satisfied by harps, round-towers, wolf hounds, colleen bawns and other impedimenta of romantic nationalistic sunburstry.
“There is, however, a basic truth to the importance of symbols, on both sides...”
Dr Hayes then set out the central premise of his argument: Catholics looking politically south or culturally to their Irish heritage were not disloyal to the state.
“I think that most Catholics in Northern Ireland wish to retain the right to be different, and to have different long-term political aspirations from the present majority without being regarded as disloyal or in some way inferior citizens.
“On the other hand, the majority have a well-developed fear of wooden horses which has permeated political life for over half a century.
“I would argue, therefore, for some expression of the principle (whether in legislation or otherwise) that it was neither improper nor unconstitutional for citizens (including elected politicians) in Northern Ireland to advocate or work for some form of Irish unity through the normal accepted political processes.
“(In fact, few of the present advocated have gone beyond the short title and very little thought has been given to, and there is less consensus about, the form eventual ‘unity’ might take.)”
Among a series of suggestions, Dr Hayes proposed the possibility (as came to pass in the 1998 Agreement) of both Britain and Ireland allowing Northern Irish people to travel on either a British or Irish passport meaning that if someone chose to travel with an Irish travel document “his election so to do should not be regarded as a sign of disloyalty or a cause for suspicion”.
Dr Hayes advised against border polls as they would give “grounds for triumphalism or insecurity” and suggested that a border poll should only be called when 70 per cent of the Assembly voted to request a poll and the referendum itself should then require a 70 per cent vote in favour of Irish unity before the government agreed to “open discussions with all parties, including RoI”.
He said that the “most widespread cause for alienation” among Catholics was police and security procedures and he highlighted the fact that Catholic areas were much more likely to be searched and to experience Army road blocks.
“As another manifestation of a particular mentality, I keep seeing reports from the RUC that since ‘X’ (against whom nothing incriminating is recorded) comes from ‘a known republican area’ he or she should not be employed in sensitive work. This attitude is mirrored in some departments.”