Unionism’s big mistake was not made in 1945 but a few years later

A letter from WA Miller:

Wednesday, 16th June 2021, 11:46 am
Updated Wednesday, 16th June 2021, 12:10 pm
Eamon de Valera’s 1949 anti-partition campaign included a sectarian slanted 'chapel gate collection'
Eamon de Valera’s 1949 anti-partition campaign included a sectarian slanted 'chapel gate collection'

Robert Ramsay’s belief that unionism’s greatest mistake was missing to make peace with constitutional nationalism in 1945 (‘I’d consider Irish unity, says key aide to NI’s last prime minister as he laments unionist grandees’ key error in 1945,’ June 12, see link below) is a fair comment, but lopsided in its presentation.

So too is the now common talk about a unity between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland — as though the latter were an unchanging entity and similarly relations within the rest of the archipelago irrelevant.

The mistake was not in 1945 but in 1949 in the manner of the response, banging the big drum and the old slogans, to Eamon de Valera’s 1949 anti-partition campaign, with its sectarian slanted ‘chapel gate collection’ after Sunday mass to fund it.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Letter to the editor

Prior to that unionism with its large rallies in the then Wellington Hall in Belfast addressed by Leo Amery and Quinton Hogg (later Lord Hailsham) was part of a lively political argument — the communists under Betty Sinclair had their bookshop in Church Lane and held rallies, as did Labour, on the blitzed site across the way from the parish church of St George in High Street.

The then debate that arose within unionism on whether Roman Catholics could be good party members — the Roman Catholic hierarchy had opposed the state and were still far from approving — sank into silence following De Valera’s launch of his 1949 campaign.

This debate within unionism was not to be heard again until Terence O’Neill became prime minister in 1963 — and, incidentally, O’Neill was also what Robert Ramsey refers to far from approvingly as ‘big house’ unionism.

It was also ‘big house’ unionism against opposition that secured the passing of the 1947 Education Act, which opened the way to a grammar school for many children who otherwise would not have the opportunity.

WA Miller, Belfast BT13

——— ———

A message from the Editor:

Thank you for reading this story on our website. While I have your attention, I also have an important request to make of you.

With the coronavirus lockdown having a major impact on many of our advertisers — and consequently the revenue we receive — we are more reliant than ever on you taking out a digital subscription.

Subscribe to newsletter.co.uk and enjoy unlimited access to the best Northern Ireland and UK news and information online and on our app. With a digital subscription, you can read more than 5 articles, see fewer ads, enjoy faster load times, and get access to exclusive newsletters and content. Visit https://www.newsletter.co.uk/subscriptions now to sign up.

Our journalism costs money and we rely on advertising, print and digital revenues to help to support them. By supporting us, we are able to support you in providing trusted, fact-checked content for this website.

Alistair Bushe

Editor