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New Ireland Forum: views from Republic, and Ulster Unionists

THE Report of the New Ireland Forum was launched on the basis that it represents something new in the quest of Irish nationalists for a united Ireland. Yet, it contains not a single novel concept or revolutionary idea. In 1982, Dr. John Bowman, a distinguished Irish historian, identified in his book ''De Valera and the Ulster Question'' six myths current among Irish nationalists in the immediate post-treaty period:

1. That the people of Ireland constituted one nation.

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2. That Britain had partitioned Ireland solely from self-interest.

3. That an independent, politically ''reunited'' Ireland was inevitable.

4. That even if Britain had to coerce the Ulster Unionists as it was in honor bound to do, the resulting United Ireland would be economically prosperous and stable.

5. That if Britain unilaterally broke the link with Northern Ireland, the Ulster Unionists would be obliged to accept an accommodation with the South.

6. That Britain had the necessary resources to coerce the Unionists into accepting a united Ireland.

These myths have all been incorporated into the Forum's report, and where the choice lay between political reality and myth, the Forum has unhesitatingly opted for the dream.

The Forum failed to acknowledge that between 1921 and 1984 there has been an increasing separation between the Gaelic theocratic Republic of Ireland and the British pluralist Northern Ireland. As late as last September, when the Forum was deliberating, the people of the Republic voted overwhelmingly for an amendment to the Constitution making abortion not only unlawful, but unconstitutional.

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The Forum proceeded upon the assumed principle that a united Ireland was the only solution. The only subject matter of its inquiry was what was to be the form of that united Ireland. The Forum totally ignored the reality that 1 million Ulster Unionists were implacably opposed to the principle, which threatened their identity and their most fundamental tradition of being and remaining part of the United Kingdom. Peter Barry, the Republic's foreign minister, had already stated early in 1983 that ''The Unionists of the North will not be allowed to impede the reconciliation of 5 million people in this island.'' Two days after the Forum's report was published, Charles Haughey, leader of Fianna Fail, the opposition party in the Republic, asked whether the principle of unity by consent implied the right of Unionists to say ''no,'' answered:

''Fianna Fail policy was that the unity of Ireland was a natural thing which nobody had a right to impede or deny.'' (Irish Times, May 4, 1984.)

Although much publicity has been given to the principle that the new Ireland can only come about through agreement to be freely negotiated and agreed to by the people of the North and the South, it is abundantly clear that such consent only refers to the form of a united Ireland and not the principle. Dublin and London are to create a political framework over the heads of the Unionists in which the principle of Irish unity will be agreed without the consent, if necessary, of the Unionists. As the report makes clear, ''The settlement must transcend the context of Northern Ireland.''

Unionists have little difficulty in decoding this sort of language. It means that a united Ireland is inevitable and that Britain has the necessary political , military, and economic resources to coerce the Unionists into it.

The report invites Britain to validate the myth that Unionists will negotiate if the link with Northern Ireland is weakened by the British government's withdrawal of the constitutional guarantee. And the report is redolent both with the unreal assumption that Britain is honor bound to coerce the Unionists and with the suggestion of the threat of adverse world opinion if it does not.

The Forum lays blame upon the Unionists of Northern Ireland for their alleged sectarian discrimination. It castigates successive British governments for a policy of crisis management; but no blame is attached to those whose dangerous myths have, in the past, fed the ideology of violence and continue to do so in the present. The claim of the Republic's Constitution to the territory of Northern Ireland enables Provisional IRA and others to state with some legitimacy, ''You claim and we act in furtherance of that claim.'' The main source of violence and instability in Northern Ireland is the activity of republican terrorists in support of exactly the same objective as the Forum - a unitary Irish state.

The Ulster Unionist Party in its recent policy document, ''The Way Forward,'' has outlined concrete and achievable proposals for the minority community to participate in the government of Northern Ireland within the context of the United Kingdom.

Such proposals are in keeping with reality, not founded on myth. They bear close examination.

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