28 SEPTEMBER 1974, Page 11

Election (2)

Unwanted in Ulster

Rawle Knox

Yet another election in Northern Ireland will bear as little relation to that in the rest of the United Kingdom as — as Enoch Powell does to South Down? This time it can tell the Ulsterman nothing he doesn't know already, and has known for far too long. Last February Proved that orthodox Unionism was back in the saddle. You might be persuaded to think that the only issues were the possible independence of those six northern counties, the "integrationwith Britain (where all parties are trying to give some sort of independence to Wales and Scotland), or a numerical wrangle about how many seats there should be in a possible new tormont and for Ulster MPs at Westminster. What really matters is making Northern Ireland a safe place for people to live and build their homes in. Politicians, of all trademarks, for got no further than demanding a land fit ror demagoguery to thrive upon. The head-counters of Westminster are intrigued by the prospect of Enoch Powell, with Perhaps almost a full complement of Unionist aPostles, plus his thrustful if numerically modest support within the English Tory party, fdrrning a bloc that could be significant on certain voting issues. Those with their heads hardened by a lifetime in Unionist politics do not see that such a bloc would be useful in Moving Irish causes, which is all they are interested in. Ulster Unionists will wont the ear of whatever party is in power, and being Marked as a Powell supporter may not be the hest way of getting it; meanwhile he's a useful stick to beat the English with. In Northern Ireland this time, except to fans of local in-fighting, it matters little how many 'loyalists' are returned to Westminster. A seat or two may be lost to the Catholics if Protestants split the Vote in small internecine wars; but none of those Unionists whom less than six months ago Brian Faulkner led in the Stormont Assembly, With their professed belief in sharing executive Power with the northern Catholics and in a brand new relationship with Dublin — none of them will head a polling list. Already they seem to have had about as much ohance against the tide as King. Canute. Roy Bradford may reaPPear, but he has turned his coat outside out again and it shows the old true Orange. The Ulster Workers' Council, which called the strike that struck Ulster rigid last May, is unhappy at the way things,have been going. All the old 'bourgeois' Protestant politicos are in their talking seats again, the very ones who, While the strike was on, were running to hear What the UWC was going to do next,and whom that same council treated with weary disdain. Now they've made themselves more insufferable by adding a middle-class Englishman to their list. When you recall that members of the UWC said frequently during the strike, in the Most aristocratically proletarian manner, that they left politics to the politicians, such a d6nouement is not surprising. Nor of course -is the discontent of the UWC; bourgeois politicians are always misinterpreting their master's voice. That strike in May was called with one declared object — though it took a day or two of the stoppage for the UWC to get around to ,defining it — that of gaining new elections. "nen Brian Faulkner resigned the strike was called off, but no new election for a Stormont Assembly took place because Westminster wearily reassumed direct rule. The British business of fixing themselves a new government on October 10 -has nothing to do with What the UWC wanted. So now there is muttering about calling a new strike to ensure that. any future Northern Ireland , Assembly eschews power-sharing with Catholics and has no kind of joint commitment with Dublin (the true thinking behind the strikers last May); that it will be bound by neither of the two major conditions all British political parties guaranteed to Dublin and to Gerry Fitt's SDLP. For Ireland last week what could have been a far more important beginning than Wilson's release of the election date was Merlyn Rees's meeting in Dublin with the Irish Republic's Minister of Justice. Rees and Patrick Cooney only touched on the fringes of a security co-operation between North and South which — if only northerners and southerners could be made to believe it — is vital for the survival of the heritages both talk so much about. Look, for a moment, at the county of , Monaghan, sticking up like a sore thumb into Tyrone, crooked around Fermanagh, and with a knuckle jabbing into Armagh. Monaghan is tuber-root republican country, and I don't suppose I was the only person to surmise, when the nineteen IRA prisoners made the spectacular break from Portlaoghise gaol, that they would be making for the haven of some small farmhouses not far distant from Castleblaney and Carrickmacross. One of the escapers was soon to be taken, wounded, after an action in South Armagh, which is technically part of the United Kingdom, though I wouldn't like to be serving a government writ around there. There is in effect no border in those parts, and no government's law runs. It is not surprising that the town of Monaghan suffered one of the nastiest of the bombs in a Protestant hit-andrun raid from the North. The British Army and the Republic's Gardai have co-operated in the past, but lately, as the Army has noticeably been making more of its own rules, the Gardai, who object to some of them, have been less helpful. There is no official liaison at all between British and Irish armies, because the .Irish cannot stomach the idea of helping the British to hunt down men they regard as their own. Yet slowly — or softly, softly — that co-operation will have to be achieved. Before the Rees-Cooney meeting the IRA threatened to extend its `war' southward if there was any suggestion that the Irish Army would help the British. "They, cannot kill us all," said Bishop Daly of Derry at the memorial service to Judge Roger Conaghan (the bishop was echoing earlier brave words of some priests and councillors in the notorious parish of Shantallow); but "at the rate they are going," a gloomy southerner said to me recently, "they can kill enough of the ones who matter." One day an Irish government may have to take up the challenge and shock the electorate into deciding who does carry the tricolour — the IRA or the regular Irish Army?

Liam Cosgrove could hardly administer that shock now. In his impassive way, he has done plenty already. By his ostentatious withdrawal of direct support for the SDLP he has warned Catholics in the North that if they continue to nourish the IRA they cannot expect any backing from Dublin. That is far more than any Irish leader has done before. Yet while Cosgrove has been steering his extremely difficult political course, the British government has done nothing — bar telling Ulstermen that they'll have to decide their own constitutional future; which in' effect means throwing the hall back to the loyalists'. The next government paper on Northern Ireland, rather than showing the, economic impossibility of Northern Ireland going it alone, might count the cost to Britain of having to continue its support of a disaffected province. That might start the British talking to the Irish again, on both sides of the border. Meanwhile, though, we have to go through another unwanted general election, to be followed — sometime — by one of a constituent convention. It's going to be a lot more fun for the politicians than for the public.

Rawle Knox writes regularly for The Spectator from Ulster.