David Campbell, the former chair of the Ulster Unionist Party, speaking on BBC TV about the numerical decline of the Protestant population in the Republic of Ireland, called on “the Irish government to institute a national inquiry into the treatment of the Protestant population from 1921” (March 7, BBC ‘Nolan Live’).
There is no need for such an inquiry because the Irish government has already done so.
It did so in 1995, as part of the peace process, under the auspices of the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation.
The forum commissioned studies and held public sessions.
It included delegates from political parties from both Northern Ireland and the Republic.
Unionist parties declined to send delegates, but some individual unionists made presentations in the public sessions.
The forum commissioned a major study into the treatment of the Protestant population in the South after the partition of Ireland. The results of this research were published in 1996 by Blackstaff Press under the title ‘Building Trust in Ireland: Studies Commissioned by the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation’.
I was the academic co-author (with J.J Sexton) of the component study called ‘Factors affecting population decline in minority religious communities in the Republic of Ireland’.
In making his call for an inquiry Mr Campbell declared “You ask the Protestants that came up to Northern Ireland because they had to leave the Republic because of the implications of an Irish language act there, it’s called ethnic cleansing”.
The use of the description ‘ethnic cleansing’ is not supported by the above academic study.
Indeed Mr Campbell’s focus on the Irish language in this context is misplaced.
In contrast, the study above highlight the negative effect on Protestant numbers in the past of the Catholic Church’s rules on mixed marriage, notably Ne Temere.
Mr Campbell should look to church marriage laws, not to the Irish language, if he wishes to understand the causes of the numerical decline post independence of the southern Irish Protestant population.
Dr Richard O’Leary, Holywood, Co Down