It is difficult to take seriously the leading article in last week's Spectator in which it was suggested that the imposition of direct rule in Ulster had now become essential because the Stormont regime had manifestly failed.' It is even more difficult to decide whether any argument is possible with a pen which is willing to use the word 'totalitarian ' of the Ulster government, and to ignore the fact that for many years now the chief — really the only — source of political violence in in Ireland has been the Irish Republican Army and its offshoots.
In the sense in which almost anything can be argued, it can doubtless be argued that the government's quasi-dictatorial powers ' are " contrary to the practice and spirit of that broad, central position of good, just, tolerable governance which has been one of this kingdom's chief assets." It can, however, be replied that "violence and terror in the streets " are equally hostile to "tolerable governance" which cannot be restored by redress of grievance when the grievance against which violence is being used is the existence of the government itself.
It would be too much to expect the innocent libertarian mind to remember that not all grievances are the fault of governments, and that there is no necessary correlation between the extent of violence on the one hand and the objective evil of the objects against which violence is directed on the other.
Violence, if prolonged and successful, may have to be recognised by a change of policy. But change may now well make a bad situation worse. The British government has available only a choice of evils which will not be removed by misrepresenting the present reality. The present reality is that the Government of Ulster, so far from being totalitarian, might have been more effective if it had been. It has questionable aspects which arise from the existence of a substantial minority problem and the geographical inseparability of the conflicting communities. But these things are the results of sectarian fears and historical geography which no mere irritation with sectarianism will remove. Even within the terms in which the leading article was written, it is difficult to see how direct rule could be less 'totalitarian ' than rule by Stormont. It is idle to suppose that sectarian differences are going to be removed by the mere closing of the Northern Ireland parliament and it is quite as likely that they will increase as Ulster Protestants come to understand how easy a touch for any hostilerevolutionary Westminster rule may on past performance be expected to be. Since Ulster Protestants are organized, and are presumably formidable, the way forward ' might simply then turn out to be a way back.
The primary necessity, in the event
of direct rule being introduced, would be a .manifest sympathy for Ulster's diemmas and an attempt to establish that the British government does not intend to ' betray ' Ulster as some earlier British governments have done to those who have relied on them elsewhere.
Ulster, like Eire, though to a lesser degree, is meant in practice to be a sectarian state. So long as the British army remains, there can be none of the easy impartiality with which it arrived. If the British Government is not behind 'Protestant Ulster,' it is against it. That is that, and the misfortune is that it will easily seem to be so even if it is not, This is not to say that direct rule may not be desirable. But, if direct rule is to be introduced, with all the difficulties and drawbacks that this will bring to the Government in Westminster, it will need to be introduced with due recognition of the fears and feelings on which Mr Paisley, among others, plays (but which he did not invent), unless the hostility now felt by parts of the Catholic population is to be felt also by the Protestant.
Direct rule with Mr Paisley is, of course, a different proposition from direct rule against him; if the idea is that direct rule on any terms would be better than involving him in government or holding a general election in circumstances in which he might win, this merely redoubles the importance of carrying along that large part of the population whose fears he (like Mr Faulkner) has succeeded in crystalising, but whose resentment he (also like Mr Faulkner) probably cannot control.
The present wave of violence may, or may not, be ended. Whether it is or not, the British government may have to make radical changes in Ulster in the future. Changes will be immensely difficult to make if proposed from a frame of mind which is blistering and insensitive to those who have made Ulster what it has been so far. In all these matters, tone, manner, and choice of words are crucial. Treading on long-established corns may be necessary to fearless journalism. In present conditions, and with a view to the future, it is merely silly.