There were a couple of stories this week which illustrated a growing tendency to equate the position of Protestants in the Republic of Ireland with that of Catholics north of the border
A Unionist peer today secured the backing of an eminent American businessman to tackle alleged discrimination against Protestants in the Irish Republic.
Lord Laird said Alan Hevesi, controller of the £66 billion New York State retirement fund, will join him in putting pressure on Dublin to tackle the claim.
Another comes from the Irish news (via Nuzhound), where Susan McKay looked at a new study, Identifying the Protestant Community, Its Needs and Perspectives.
McKay points to a number of salient issues, such as the Catholic Church's role in state education, but adds:
However, the idea that there is a distinct border Protestant community which needs to be cultivated as such, seems to me separatist and divisive. The border area has a great tradition of mixed marriages – how do those families fit into such a notion? They don't. They are well integrated. The needs of Protestants who have moved in from Africa and elsewhere were not surveyed or discussed.
There was talk at the conference about "Protestant culture" and "Roman Catholic culture". Culture isn't defined by religion. Researchers should beware creating sectarian divisions by going looking for them. Let's not turn the south into the north.
There is a small but vocal lobby in the Republic which is devoted precisely to 'turning the south into the north', exemplified by the Reform Movement, which proclaims that:
While there have been enormous concessions to minority aspirations in Northern Ireland, the Republic has lagged behind. It would be a sign of real maturity for dissent to be actively encouraged.
The Reform Movement claims to want reconciliation between Ireland and Britain, but it is unable to see this in any terms other than Ireland being reabsorbed into the faux-Gothic unionist/monarchist framework, which is increasingly being questioned in Britain itself (particularly Scotland.)
This agenda requires the existence of an embattled southern Protestant unionist minority that necessitates the intervention of the British Monarchy to heal the sectarian division.
Ironically for a group that claims to be anti-sectarian, the Reform movement is partly a product of the Orange Order:
In 1996 some members of the institution along with others got together to form the non-denominational Reform Movement, which was launched in 1998. Once again members of the Orange Institution in the Republic, co-operating with others, were the first to re enter the political arena since independence. The Reform Movement represents all those who regard themselves as British/Irish, descendants of the old southern Unionist tradition, Redmondite and post Nationalist. (Orangenet)
Strangely enough, the Redmondite Home Rule strand of Irish nationalism cited with approval here was linked to the Ancient Order of Hibernians, the closest Catholic equivalent of the Orange Order.
The British state could accomodate Catholic and Protestant tribalisms along with many others of the same kind, (Indeed, the Catholic role in Irish state schools originated as a British concession to the Home Rule party,) but not republican nationalism.
on the subject of Hibernianism, the Athol Books website has an interesting article by Terence McSwiney, the Lord Mayor of Cork who died on Hunger Strike in Brixton Prison during the War of Independence:
The English ruling faction having, for their own political designs, corrupted the Orangemen with power and flattery, enabled them to establish an ascendancy, not only over Ulster, but indirectly by their vote over the South. This becoming intolerable, some sincere but misguided Catholics in the North joined the organisation known as The Ancient Order Of Hibernians. This was, in effect, a sort of Catholic Freemasonry to counter the Orange Freemasonry, but like Orangeism, it was a political and not a religious weapon.
Another famous Cork Republican, Tom Barry, wrote contemptuously in his autobiography of the "local native politicians, who invoking the names of Parnell, Redmond, Caitlin ni Houlihan... ...cringed to the Army of Occupation and the Loyalists, deprecated, so very carefully, the National Struggle for Freedom, and pursued their petty meannesses under the guise of what they called Catholicism"
Barry himself has recently been accused of carrying out sectarian attacks by the Canadian historian Peter Hart. Hart's claims have sparked a major historical controversy in which Barry has been defended by biographer Meda Ryan.
What is at stake in this argument is an attempt to reduce the nationalism which created the Irish state to Catholic sectarianism. If successful, this would pave the way for the kind of neo-unionist agenda advocated by the Reform Movement.
Ironically, the British insitutions that the Reform Movement wants to re-attach Ireland to, are in serious need of reform themselves.
That means that this sectarian divide and rule agenda is as much a threat to British as to Irish democracy.