We Need A Radical, United Left

NOTE: This is a work of fiction and idealism and not a serious proposal for a new way of thinking.

Okay so we’ve all heard it before, a radical left wing alternative the austerity driven politics of the current mainstream Westminster clique. We’ve even heard from within the same clique in the vein of Jeremy Corbyn and his ability to command the respect of his own MPs never mind the country remains to be seen. We have too many left-wing alternatives in the UK and Ireland and frankly the watered down collective of barking opposition needs to come to a decision: either they unite as one movement with one vision and message or we fade away into obscurity, relegated to anti-war, anti-austerity and anti-cuts protests with no representation at a local, devolved or state level. Continue reading

To My Friend – Naomi Long

I got involved in local politics just after the General Election in 2010. I watched as the political landscape changed dramatically with the Lib Dems walking into Downing Street with David Cameron and the Conservatives. I also watched with astonishment as Alliance Party deputy leader Cllr Naomi Long MLA bounced from coming in third place to unseating DUP leader Peter Robinson in Belfast East. The idea that one person could defy the odds, against every possible prediction, poll, pundit and probability and make a difference inspired me to want to do the same. Continue reading

Will I Make It Home Tonight?

That is the thought that crosses the mind of every single gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans person each time they open the door to the night and look at the waiting taxi. That fleeting and sometimes not so fleeting thought that runs across your train of thought and sends an icy feeling roiling in your gut for a split second: “Am I going to get bashed tonight? Do I give myself away? Am I going to be murdered tonight because I’m queer?”

People will argue with me that this is an overreaction or that not all LGBT think this but I’m telling you that you do. It’s probably not even a conscious thing but it’s why you don’t hold your girlfriend’s hand when you’re walking through the shopping centre or why you don’t go and talk to that cute guy at the deli counter or why you’re not going to wear that t-shirt on casual Friday in case it draws the wrong sort of attention.

The thought that just because we are LGBT we may draw the attention of men of violence and invite that damage onto ourselves is one even the most confident militant queer contemplates each time they walk out the door. Even in the areas near the gay bars in Belfast I am still cautious about who I am with, where I am going and who is watching.  Even with guys that I am meeting with or that I have just met (I don’t know if the same applies to straight guys but I doubt it) and every time I meet a guy at a bar or when I hear about friends who have met a guy on Grindr for a once off I think “What if they had hurt you? What if that was a trap? What if they were setting you up?”

It’s a horrendous feeling and I am glad that Russel T Davies brought it up (even in such brutal fashion) on the last episode of Cucumber. It doesn’t matter how long ago it was that you came out or how comfortable you are with being gay there will always be that subtle and sinister and unwelcome Homophobia that dances along your train of thought for a moment or more and asks “Will I make it home tonight?”

That is the world we live in as openly LGBT people.  We owe it to ourselves to stop living like that.

All The Times The DUP Stood Up For The Gays

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The DUP’s Paul Givan claimed on the Nolan Show last week that the DUP aren’t against gay people. Let’s take a look back at all the times the DUP has stood up for the rights of LGBT people in Northern Ireland.

1977 – MP Rev Ian Paisley launches the ‘Save Ulster from Sodomy’ campaign in an effort to retain the ban on homosexuality in Northern Ireland.

1982 – DUP submits a response to the NI Office in respect of the proposed decriminalisation of homosexuality, claiming that The effect of the law as a restraint on bestiality, incest and rape will be further reduced.” and goes on to say the change will lead to “inevitable demands for a further lowering”, giving “impetus to the paedophile movement which is rampant within the homosexual movement today”.

22nd June 1998 – DUP MPs vote against the Government to lower the age of consent for gay sex from 18 to 16.

10th Feb 2000 – DUP MPs vote again to reject the Sexual Offences Bill to lower the age of consent for gay sex.

24th Oct 2001 – DUP MPs vote against a motion to bring forward a gender neutral Civil Registration Bill.

4th Nov 2002 – DUP MPs vote against an amendment to the Adoption & Children Bill to allow unmarried straight and gay couples to adopt children.

23rd Feb 2004 – DUP MPs vote against the second reading of the Gender Recognition Bill.

25th May 2004 – DUP MPs vote against the third reading of the Gender Recognition Bill.

12th Oct 2004 – DUP MPs vote against the second reading of the Civil Partnerships Bill

9th Nov 2004 – DUP MPs vote in favour of a wrecking motion to enable siblings to become Civil Partners under proposed legislation. They later vote against the third reading of the Civil Partnerships Bill.

18th Nov 2005 – Ballymena DUP Cllr Maurice Mills claims that gay people are to blame for Hurricane Katrina.

9th Jan 2007 – DUP’s Lord Morrow proposes a motion to defeat the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations (Northern Ireland).

21st March 2007 – DUP MPs vote against a Government Bill to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

21st Jan 2008 – DUP Peers vote to prevent a clause demanding the need for a ‘father’ from being removed in the Human Fertilisation & Embryology Bill. If this clause had remained then lesbian couples would have been unable to access IVF treatment.

20th Feb 2008 – DUP Culture Minister Edwin Poots MLA calls the establishment of a gay rugby team in Belfast a form of ‘apartheid’.

20th May 2008 – DUP MPs vote against Government proposals to allow single mothers and lesbian couples access to IVF treatment – twice.

June 2008 – DUP MP & MLA Iris Robinson claims that homosexuality can be ‘cured’.

21st July 2008 – DUP MP & MLA Iris Robinson claims that homosexuality is ‘viler’ than child abuse in a speech to Parliament.

26th July 2011 – DUP MLA Jim Wells calls Belfast Pride ‘repugnant’.

2nd August 2012 – Lord Mayor of Belfast, the DUP Cllr Gavin Robinson, stands by his party’s opposition to gay rights at a panel debate during the Belfast Pride festival.

25th August 2012 – Magherafelt District DUP Cllr Paul McClean calls for homosexuality to be made illegal in Northern Ireland.

1st October 2012 – DUP MLAs block a motion brought forward to facilitate marriage equality in Northern Ireland.

25th October 2013 – DUP MLA Tom Buchanan tells school children attending a public event that homosexuality is an ‘abomination’.

October 2012 – DUP Health Minister Edwin Poots MLA lodges an appeal against the NI High Court Ruling overturning the ban on gay couples being allowed to adopt.

5th Feb 2013 – DUP MPs vote against the second reading of the Marriage (Same-Sex Couples) Bill and all technical motions to facilitate the passing of the Bill.

29th April 2013 – DUP MLAs block a second motion brought forward to facilitate marriage equality in Northern Ireland.

2st May 2013 – DUP MPs vote against the third reading of the Marriage (Same-Sex Couples) Bill.

11th Oct 2013 – Despite an NI High Court ruling, DUP Health Minister Edwin Poots MLA refuses to lift the lifetime ban on gay and bisexual men donating blood.

13th Nov 2013 – DUP Health Minister Edwin Poots MLA claims in the NI Assembly that the ‘natural order’ is for a child to be raised by a mother and father.

5th March 2014 (Busy day for the DUP) – DUP MPs vote against Government proposals to allow same-sex marriages to be annulled or for same-sex spouses to divorce. They also vote against plans to allow consenting places of worship being able to register and de-register their property as venues in which to conduct same-sex weddings. On the same day they vote against plans to allow the registration of Armed Forces chapels as venues in which to conduct same-sex weddings. That same day they vote against plans to allow same-sex weddings for British citizens to be conducted in UK Consulates in foreign nations, to allow same-sex marriages from England and Wales be recognised as Civil Partnerships in Scotland and against the right of UK Armed Forces personnel entering into a same-sex marriage whilst serving overseas. On a bit of a roll that day, weren’t they?

29th April 2014 – DUP MLAs block a third motion brought forward to facilitate marriage equality in Northern Ireland.

8th December 2014 – DUP MLA Paul Givan publishes a Bill (nicknamed the Conscience Clause) designed to allow religious people an opt out from equality legislation when providing goods and services to gay couples.

21st Jan 2015 – Health Minister Jim Wells MLA of the DUP announces that he will maintain the present ban on blood donations from gay and bisexual men.

23rd April 2015 – During a hustings event in South Down, DUP Health Minister Jim Wells claimed “You don’t bring a child up in a homosexual relationship. That the child is far more likely to be abused and neglected.” (This later led to his resignation as Health Minister 3 days later.)

27th April 2015 – The DUP use a Petition of Concern to block a motion calling for equal marriage in the NI Assembly.

28th April 2015 – DUP Cllr Paul McLean called for homosexuality to be made illegal.

30th April 2015 – DUP Leader and First Minister of NI claims that Cllr McLean is ‘entitled to his views’ and that if homosexuality was illegal he hopes people ‘would obey that law’.

30th April 2015 – MLA and Westminster candidate Jonathan Bell sets out his opposition to same-sex marriage and to 3-person marriage which he dubs ‘Thruples’ during a hustings debate in South Belfast.

2nd November 2015 – The NI Assembly debates equal marriage for a fifth time and the measure passes by 1 vote however the DUP again use the Petition of Concern to block it.

27th October 2016 – DUP Leader Arlene Foster says her party will continue blocking equal marriage for the next five years with the Petition of Concern.

29th November 2016 – DUP MLA Trevor Clarke claims he didn’t know straight people could contract HIV during an Assembly debate.

April 21st 2017 – DUP MLA Jim Wells claims that the party will split if the leadership agrees to allowing same sex marriage during NI Executive formation talks.

You’re Right, It’s Not Natural

I want to dedicate this post to Leelah Alcorn.

I’m a little angry and here’s why: In 2014 and every year before that I have read story after story about young LGBT people taking their own lives, being locked up, turned out onto the streets and made homeless, fired from their jobs, being hospitalised, murdered.

I’m tired of the attitudes that dominate and facilitate the treatment of LGBT people, (people like me, my friends, my family) as second class, as lesser than and not valued or worthy as those who are not. Those that are ‘normal’.

How can you call yourself a Christian and stand over the countless overdoses, hangings and suicides that have smothered the flickering flames of so many beautiful young lives and taken them from us too soon? Taken them from themselves too soon? How can you call yourself a Christian and look away as bright sparks are bullied into the darkness by their own families, their own parents, family,  schools? Their churches?

They didn’t choose this life. We didn’t choose this life. How dare you stamp on the dreams and aspirations of young kids who haven’t yet had the opportunity that you had to flourish and sparkle. You fail those who preach peace, love and understanding when you walk past those kids who have to worry about where they’ll find their next bed, their next meal, their next source of income or simply the best place to get out of the rain when the sun sets.

I’m sick and furious when I hear those who stand behind a pulpit or the good book tell us that being LGBT isn’t natural. You preach prejudice and derision to impressionable young minds and then lament at their graveside like the hypocrites you are. They left us, too broken hearted at their wings being clipped before they had a chance to soar.

Every time you tell a young Trans girl that she isn’t real, that she isn’t natural or that she’s going to Hell you better hold your tongue and hold back your false indignation or sorrow the next time a girl like her takes her own life. You are as much to blame as the others who forced her into that corner and stripped her of her right to be free, to be happy and most importantly to feel safe and loved.

In 2015 I don’t want to read another headline, hear another story or find another article about a friend or some kid in some far away place or somewhere close that couldn’t bear to face the world because of who they are. Don’t be your child’s first bully. Think before you speak. Even if you don’t understand, reach out your hand and help them if they ask for it. You might just be saving a life.
Please if you need to speak to anyone or if you know someone who does please get in touch with Lifeline on 0808 808 8000.

No, Not #AllLivesMatter

I will probably ruffle a few feathers with this one but here goes.

I’m sick of seeing this hashtag (#AllLivesMatter) everywhere at the moment. Yes, in a perfect world all lives would matter but the fact that the African American community feels the need to reiterate to the world that #BlackLivesMatter is testament to the fact that they don’t.

I am a white man, Western and Protestant. I am already born with more privilege than others purely because of those facets. Do they make me a bad person? Of course not; but they do make me privileged in ways that I cannot fully appreciate,  understand or recognise and in ways that automatically put me ahead of women, racial minorities and non-Christians in a predominately Western dominated culture and society. I can’t abide by this ‘let’s all hold hands because we are all the same’ attitude being peddled by those who are trying to empathise with the African American community in the US right now. We are not the same. If Michael Brown, Eric Garner or John Crawford has been white they wouldn’t have been killed.

I can be outraged by the acquittal of the Ferguson Police Officer who shot and killed unarmed Michael Brown. I can be incensed by the inequality faced by black men and women in the US when it comes to their statistically higher rate of stop and frisk, incarceration and police brutality. I can be heartbroken when I read a headline like that of the fatal shooting of Rumain Brisbon by police in Phoenix on Dec 6th or 12 year old Tamir Rice in Cleveland on Nov 22nd – both unarmed African Americans. I can be all of those things but I can never appreciate or understand the fear or the terror associated with being a young African American man. This extract from the Washington Post article written by Prof. Ranjana Natarajan demonstrates the kind of racial bias exuded by local police authorities in the US:

In a 2011 report, the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights found evidence of widespread racial profiling, showing that African Americans and Hispanics are disproportionately likely to be stopped and searched by police, even though they’re less likely to be found possessing contraband or committing a criminal act.

That same report (available here) goes on to say Empirical evidence confirms the existence of racial
profiling on America’s roadways. At the national level, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Justice Statistics reports that for the year 2005, the most recent data available, “[p]olice actions taken during a traffic stop were not uniform across racial and ethnic
categories.” “Black drivers (4.5%) were twice as likely as White drivers (2.1%) to be arrested during a traffic stop, while Hispanic drivers (65%) were more likely than White (56.2%) or Black (55.8%) drivers to receive a ticket. In addition, Whites (9.7%) were more likely than Hispanics (5.9%) to receive a written warning, while Whites (18.6%) were more likely than Blacks (13.7%) to be verbally warned by police.” When it came to searching minority motorists after a traffic
stop, “Black (9.5%) and Hispanic (8.8%) motorists stopped by police were searched at higher rates than
Whites (3.6%). The “likelihood of experiencing a search did not change for Whites, Blacks, or Hispanics.

I am tired of seeing the hashtag #AllLivesMatter. This is the typical liberal privilege-oblivious response to how an entire minority is expressing their fear, anger and outrage that their sons are being taken away from them by the very tax-funded operatus that is designed to protect everyone. White people can help, we can empathise and we can support the movement but we cannot fully appreciate that fury. “Not all white people are like that.” is another stock response that is thrown out there. That’s true, but nobody said we were. Our privilege as whites and indeed white men makes us immune to the vagaries and vulgarities of a system that has a deeply racial and sometimes sexist bias.

We cannot police how those communities respond to their oppression or how they express their anger or their grief. We need to stop insisting that by saying #BlackLivesMatter that somehow other minorities are being excluded or by somehow those who feel the gut wrenching need to shout “Hands up don’t shoot” while they block roads in Ferguson, Cleveland, New Jersey are placing the rights of a community above the rights of others. That somehow they are asking for ‘special’ treatment. If that were the case then the US and it’s African American community would not be in the situation it is in now.

“Obama is the President so racism doesn’t exist any more.” By far one of the most offensive, ignorant and over-privileged statements I have ever heard. Yes Obama is the President but the fact that the media portrays it as a victory for the African American community in the US – “look how far they’ve come” – when in fact there have always been well educated and inspirational black leaders ready to become President. Their community hasn’t come a long way, it was already there – it was the system and the institutions that placed those leaders at rhe back of the bus that needed to catch up and still does.

I pray that no more mothers of African American men have to bury their sons because of the actions of trigger happy policemen. The police are supposed to protect us, defend us. We should not have to ask them to holster their weapons and think before killing another unarmed black man or woman.

I Am Pro Choice. I Am Not Ashamed.

A year ago I would have labelled myself as pro life but that I supported abortion in certain circumstances or that I was a man so abortion was none of my business. Those were cop outs and I always knew it.

It has taken me a long time to come to terms with the truth that I am pro Choice and I am unashamedly so. I was always afraid to say it because of the nature of NI’s deeply conservative society and how it would reflect on my character. I am confident that I will be called a baby killer and other such nonsense by certain members of the pro life lobby or whoever else but that’s not a reason to not stand up for the rights of others.

Let me make one thing clear from the outset: I am not in favour of abortions. I believe that abortion should be a last resort for women but it should be a last resort that is available to them. Outlawing abortions on this island hasn’t stopped women having them. It has stopped them being carried out safely. Instead of being carried out in regulated clinics with clean utensils, trained and qualified doctors and nurses and appropriate and accessible after care, women are buying pills off the Internet or resorting to backstreet methods to have a termination.

Stopping something happening safely does not stop it happening. I can’t justifiably call myself a feminist or indeed someone who stands up for human rights if I don’t champion the right of a woman to choose. There is no middle ground here folks. You are either in favour of safe abortions or you are in favour of dangerous abortions happening out of sight. Vulnerable women never want to be in a position to have an abortion. Who would conceivably want to make that choice?

We as a society are failing women up and down this island by allowing men to dictate the rules of their reproductive health. I refuse to be told by emotional terrorists that those women are evil, that they are selfish and that they are making a mistake. I have found that more often than not the same people who are against abortion are also those who want to cut spending. Spending on things like health and education.  They want to make things like sex education in schools a taboo for fear that if young people learn about sex they might start having it, God forbid.

Newsflash: young people are already having sex. By failing to teach them how to do it safely we are perpetuating a cycle where unwanted pregnancies will continue to happen.

The same people are usually at the forefront of calling for a reduction in welfare spending, education spending and are often at the heart of efforts to dismantle public services and support networks for those young mothers. Unless you are willing to outlaw abortion but increase funding of sexual health education, family planning clinics, pre school places, reduce the cost of childcare, develop a network of support (both medical and financial) for young mothers and fathers then you aren’t pro life. Don’t dare call yourself pro life because what you are is Pro-birth (and usually at any cost).

I won’t be a part of that and I support efforts in the Republic of Ireland to repeal the 8th Amendment as well as efforts to change the law in Northern Ireland. How can we as a society stand over the needless death of Savita and call ourselves a modern country? Where we deny safe access to abortion because it makes us uncomfortable? Lots of choices that people make aren’t the ones that I would make but that doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t have the option of making a choice that is right for them at that time.

I will never look a woman in the eye and tell her she can’t have an abortion because I, as a man, don’t agree with it. How dare I.

Chip, Chip, Chipping Away: The Truth About Depression and Parkinson’s

I must admit that I’ve been trying to write this piece for a few days, ever since I read the tragic news that one of my favourite childhood actors, Robin Williams, had taken his life at the age of 63. I had considered writing a piece about mental health and my own experience of the horrible and lonely place that the inside of your own mind can be but I thought it would be inappropriate.

I read today that Robin was in the early stages of Parkinson’s disease and as someone who’s father lives with it It hit my heart in a way that I can’t properly explain or describe without sounding trite. It dawned on me in the moments that followed that silence and complacency is inappropriate, grossly so, and I don’t intend to keep quiet.

My mother has recounted to me the days and months after my father was diagnosed with Parkinson’s. He was only in his mid 40s and was forced to give up his job and his driving licence. The loss of independence hit his pride and the perception of losing his place as breadwinner for our family took a devastating toll on his mental health.

He fell into a deepening depression, so bad that he would refuse to answer the door to anyone, would argue constantly with my mother and lose his temper easily and over nothing with both my younger brother and I. At the time I thought my father was just a grumpy man but it is only recently that I have begun to realise that the changing moods and bouts of anger were the out workings of even the most mundane things in life being completely tipped out in front of him and taken away piece by piece.

The cruel thing about Parkinson’s is that it is a viciously patient and sneaky illness. It does not appear suddenly like a stroke nor is it shocking and quick like a cancer or heart attack. It waits and moves when it needs to. Parkinson’s is a horrendously misunderstood disease associated with shaky old men in their 80s and 90s but my father was less than twice my age when he was diagnosed with it. There is no discrimination in it’s intent to create chaos in your life.

Slowly but surely my father began to lose his mobility and became more and more dependant on my mother (his carer) for things. He could no longer drive and his ability to walk to the shops became all but non existent when he became stuck like a statue in our local convenience store, alone and with nobody to help him. I think it was around then that the reality of his new limitations began to sink in and I, especially, started to understand what Parkinson’s was and that it was taking my father away a day at a time.

There is nothing more infuriating or frustrating than watching a loved one slip away into the reaches of an illness that you cannot see, cannot stop and cannot reason with. By no means, however, has the illness stopped my father from being our dad. Yes he may have been unable to kick the ball about with my brother and I or take us in the car to the beach or even build a treehouse for us but he was always there or never far away.

I cannot pay tribute enough to my mother for the strength, courage and love that she has shown my father even through the most difficult times and especially in the last seven months. I am not certain that I could show the same resolve that she has shown.

I suppose that the point of all this is that I want to get across to people what it is like to see a loved one live with Parkinson’s and to shed some light on the vast sea of ignorance out there. There is no cure for Parkinson’s, there is no known cause however it is widely believed that blunt force trauma to the head can trigger the illness. My father collapsed in Belfast City Centre in line for the ATM due to pressures at work and soon after the early signs of Parkinson’s.

It is not known if it is hereditary but one of my biggest fears is that I will develop Parkinson’s in my mid 40s as my father had. I don’t tell many people that but I believe (now more than ever) it is important to talk about these things as if they are real because frankly they are. The prospect of living with an illness that is so nasty, so selfish and so devastating terrifies me.

I can’t stress enough the importance of talking to people. It was only through counselling and the support that our family and the fantastic medical services gave my father that he was able to overcome the depression and begin to appreciate that whilst his life had changed, it was still a life to be lived.

I dealt with depression after coming out as gay in 2008. It is an altogether different monster but it is part and parcel of the package you are dealt when progressive illnesses like Parkinson’s are diagnosed. Depression is heavy, it is cold and it is a lonely place to be. You can be in a crowded room with people you love, be laughing and seemingly enjoying your time with them but even buoyed by their company you are still completely alone. You don’t sleep, you don’t eat and when you laugh or smile it is an unexpected event, you feel guilty and upset for both being happy for that split second and for having forgotten what it was like to be a human being.

Depression forces you to chain yourself to your bed, paralyse yourself with doubt, a lack of confidence and a crushing realisation that life isn’t going to get better and the world is worse for having a rotten waste of space like you in it. It closes in on you like the walls of a shrinking prison and yet the expanse of the loneliness and isolation holds you under the surface until you can’t breathe. You are drowning on dry land and nobody can save you. Depression laughs at you when you cry, it makes you think terrible things to do to yourself and if you do them it puts it’s hands over your mouth and threatens you with worse if you tell anyone.

Most of all depression is exhausting. I cannot begin to describe the physical and mental toll that living with depression took on me and on others around me. It makes you forget that you aren’t the only one that suffers. It makes your mother cry because you aren’t talking to her or when you do you exude such venom that she wonders what she has done wrong. You don’t speak to your colleagues of your friends so they stop speaking to you,. The ones that care enough to stick around are so worried about you that it either gets on your nerves or makes you shut off completely and they think you’re going crazy. Then you think you’re going crazy and the cycle of abuse, grief and silence starts all over again. Until you decide to stop it.

Clearing your way through the dark cloud that is depression is not like flicking a switch or pressing a button. It is a hard, grueling and uphill battle against yourself. A version of you that is stronger, more determined to make you hate yourself and has all the ammo while you only have your bare hands. What that other version of you doesn’t have is other people who care about you. That version of you is the one that is on their own and eventually that realisation will kick in after months, years even of hard work, counselling and the ability to tell yourself over and over that you deserve to be happy and you can feel good about being you.

Depression has no right to take hold of you so don’t let it and if it does then please talk to someone about it, call for help and those who want to help you will pick up the nearest weapon they have (whether that is a hug, a listening ear, the ability to make you forget for a while what it is like to be depressed or simply being there) and use it to help you.

I am sorry for the length of this article, I had intended to be much more concise but we cannot talk enough about depression and the crushing low loneliness that it drives into your life at 1,000 miles per hour.

Please don’t suffer alone and please don’t keep it to yourself.

Independent Republic of Northern Ireland?

01b0654a537816bd4d39eeed1fI have always been fascinated with political geography, the foundation, rise and fall of states and the shifting borders of continental politics. I excelled at history at secondary school, the changing dynamics of borders and nations and empires throughout the 20th Century had me gripped; all those satellite states and self proclaimed and seldom recognised republics and nations fascinated me. Places like the Rhineland, Transnistria, The Gaza Strip. In the global scheme of things, Northern Ireland is another state that has fascinated me by way of it’s foundation, it’s borders and the roads never travelled that could have either ended the Troubles earlier or plunged Ireland into a second, bloodier civil war.

One of the most radical proposals that has always spurred my interest was that of former Prime Minister Harold Wilson who envisaged a plan to cut all ties between GB and NI and allow The 6 counties to become an independent dominion, like Canada, but without Commonwealth membership. Could this have worked back in the 70s? Well the short answer is no, and this I’ll thought out attempt to end the Troubles at their peak would have undoubtedly left Northern Ireland in a state of bloody chaos that would have threatened it’s southern neighbour and been a much earlier run of the ethnic and sectarian civil war that engulfed the Balkans in the mid 90s.

The idea of Northern Irish independence (or Ulster Nationalism) is not one of Harold Wilson’s making. The notion of an independent Stormont Government has it’s roots as early as 1946 when WF McCoy, UUP Member of the Northern Irish Parliament (NI had a ‘functioning’ parliament with 52 MPs, a Senate and a Prime Minister from 1921 to 1972) became concerned that the British Government could easily vote NI out of existence and hand it over to Ireland unless safeguards were put in place.

His proposals were that NI become a Royal Dominion with an independent Government, free from the machinations of a British Government that he did not fully trust. McCoy’s ideas, as history dictates, we’re rejected by the majority of Unionists and the movement never gained any momentum. It wasn’t until 1972 that the idea would come back to the surface when the Ulster Vanguard movement, led by William Craig, published their booklet ‘Ulster – A Nation’ in April of that year. The document heavily criticised the imposition of Direct Rule on Northern Ireland whilst also opposing any idea of power sharing or devolution with Republicans and Nationalists. In September of ’72 the Ulster Vanguard proposed a restoration of the NI Parliament and a Bill of Rights to safeguard minorities whilst also advocating the ‘extermination’ of the IRA.

As time moved on and the political situation changed, these policies faded away and so did the Ulster Vanguard by February of 1978. It was after this that the links between Ulster Nationalism and Loyalist Paramilitaries became stronger. The 1974 Ulster Worker’s Council strike brought about the collapse of the short lived power sharing executive and Harold Wilson began fishing for other alternatives. In documents released in 2005, Harold Wilson informed only his most trusted and senior Cabinet secretaries and advisors of his ambitions to exclude NI from the UK and enable it to become an independent nation, retaining the Queen as head of state but with no political oversight from Westminster. At a time of political crisis, Wilson was desperate to come up with a solution (no matter how radical) to end the conflict in the province. Wilson’s instructions began:

“All this affects the drafting of any Doomsday scenario. In Doomsday terms – which means withdrawal – I should like this scenario to be considered. It is not the only one by any means and it is open to nearly all the objections set out: … outbreak of violence and bloodshed, possible unacceptability to moderate Catholics, ditto to the Republic, the United Nations and the possible spread of trouble across the water – to name but a few.”

“What I would envisage… when we decided that Doomsday was in sight, we should proceed to prepare a plan for dominion status for Northern Ireland. This would still mean that the Ulstermen were subjects of the Queen. “It would have to be negotiated with all parties and if it were in the next four months, say… It would mean the transfer of sovereignty from Westminister. Dominion status would not, of course, carry guaranteed entry into the Commonwealth. I would think this … most unlikely and so would membership of the United Nations.

“All the UK government functions… in Northern Ireland would be transferred to the new authority. As regards finance, I would imagine the right thing would be tapering off over a period of three to five years.”

The likely outcome, as Wilson’s own advisors admitted, was an explosion of violence in Northern Ireland that would spill across the border into the Republic of Ireland and even into mainland GB itself. A sectarian war between the Northern Irish state, the IRA and Loyalist paramilitaries was a guaranteed outcome. Wilson even floated the idea to the SDLP which horrified them. John Hume went so far as to suggest that if Loyalists gained power over an independent NI, they would be able to change the constitution and effectively manufacture an apartheid state between a Protestant ruling majority and a Catholic minority. The idea quickly perished and Wilson’s Government collapsed shortly after.

The documents and proposals were never released to the media until 2005. The Irish Government at the time also opposed the idea as they had concerns that without British military intervention their 12,000 strong defence force would be unable to contain the spread of violence. They believed that any increase in defence or military spending in the Republic would also be seen by Loyalists as aggression who would do likewise, possibly leading to a devastating war between North and South. Nearly ten years later in 1986 the The Ulster Movement for Self-Determination was formed.

They envisioned an independent Ulster with the 6 counties of Northern Ireland along with the 3 counties of Cavan, Monaghan and Donegal that were in the Republic of Ireland’s jurisdiction. In 1988, post Anglo-Irish Agreement, the NI secessionists had a revival in the form of the Ulster Clubs’ Ulster Independence Committee which in turn became the Ulster Independence Movement (UIM). After the 1990 by-election in Upper Bann in which the UIM candidate Hugh Ross gained 1,534 votes (4.3%) they began campaigning earnest to see their vision for an Independent Ulster become a reality and they absorbed the USMD. However without any major backing by any mainstream Loyalist paramilitary grouping or other financial support from other factions of Unionism the USMD effectively vanished by 1994 and the UIM closed up shop by 2000.

A much more sinister plan for Ulster Nationalism was devised by the UDA in January of 1994 with a document proposing an ‘ethnic Protestant homeland’ in Northern Ireland following a long feared British withdrawal from the province. Their plans consisted of redrawing the border of Northern Ireland to include areas that were majority Protestant and ceding the rest to the Republic of Ireland. A horrific proposal to ‘nullify and expel’ the Catholic population living in the new, smaller and Loyalist dominated Northern Ireland was floated.

No doubt euphemisms for sectarian cleansing throughout the new independent state. The new border that the UDA hoped to draw across Northern Ireland was based on the work of Liam Kennedy, author of the 1986 book Two Ulsters; A Case for Repartition. Although Kennedy was reportedly unhappy about the UDA’s use of his work, more hard line elements within Loyalism were not unhappy with these proposals and the idea of ethnic cleansing was seriously considered. The idea eventually faded as the map below shows. The borders would be completely unsustainable and any attempt at ethnic cleansing within a former British territory in it’s own backyard would have far reaching global implications. Only a year later would a similar scenario play out in Bosnia and Kosovo. 

20140627-101906-37146608.jpg Present day politics in Northern Ireland has little or no place for those seeking to establish NI as an independent state, however this may change with the upcoming Scottish independence referendum in September. Should the Scots vote ‘Yes’ to independence then the idea of a United Kingdom will be challenged at a constitutional level. It’s possible that the name UK will no longer apply and the new entity of England, Wales and NI will need a new label. It is then that the conversation, I believe, will turn to federalism as Wales, Northern Ireland and perhaps even Crown Dependencies such as the Isle of Man and Jersey will begin to ask for greater autonomy over fiscal matters and legislative powers.

At present there is no way that an independent Northern Ireland could succeed. Our political establishment can barely agree on the most basic of issues, community relations are at their most volatile in 15 years. We have no natural resources, industry or pool of skilled workers or academic assets that could afford us an advantage on a global stage let alone within the British Isles or Europe. All eyes will be on Scotland in the weeks ahead as no matter what the outcome, the very nature of devolution will be irreversibly impacted and Northern Ireland is no exception.