Unionism’s big mistake was not made in 1945 but a few years later
A letter from WA Miller:
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.
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
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