12 FEBRUARY 1972, Page 4


The natural sense of relief that last Sunday's great demonstration at Newry passed off without an eruption of violence should not obscure its meaning. The march itself, from its beginning to its end, was illegal. The security forces had decided to prevent the marchers from advancing into the centre of the town and had put down their barricades appropriately. The organisers of the march had claimed their ability to control it. This claim the authorities doubted, and suggested instead, despite denials from both wings of the IRA, that the IRA would be present and that the opportunity provided by the march for a further confrontation between the IRA and the security forces would be seized. In the event, there was no confrontation; the IRA stayed away; the illegal march proceeded in an orderly fashion and it appears that at no time did the great bulk of the marchers even see the British troops. What, then, is the meaning of the march? It is that the civil rights leaders have re-asserted their ability to control and to discipline their people, and that the IRA leaders are prepared to work with the civil rights people, and remain able and willing to discipline their own people also. Put otherwise, it is clear that — whatever Lord Widgery may elucidate about the facts of the matter in Londonderry on Bloody Sunday' (or Good Sunday' as some of the Protestants are now preferring to call it, so swiftly do myths flourish) — the Army's action in killing thirteen youths and men in ' Free Derry ' after a march which turned in part into rioting, has bound the Catholic minority of Ulster more tightly together than they have ever been before.

It is to be hoped that the British Government has grasped the central truth of the Irish situation. Every government governs by consent, whether or not that consent be given willingly or unwillingly, or by tyrannous oppression. No government can afford to antagonise a very substantial minority to the extent that the minority repudiates the authority of the government repeatedly, and massively. Nevertheless, this is what the Stormont regime has done. It has so lost even the grudging, unwilling consent of the minority that under pressure from London successive Stormont govern ments changed their domestic policies and initiated a series of reforms, the need of which was itself an indictment of their predecessors. When the reforms came too late and too slowly, then the Stormont regime had to ask for the support of the British army. The army first entered the streets to interpose themselves between the Catholic minority and some of the more enthusiastic and semi-amateur (but not unofficial) forces of ' law and order 'belonging to the Protestants. The troops who were welcomed by the Catholics are now cursed by them.

The troops are seen, by both majority and minority, to be the instrument of the civil authority. That civil authority, in Ulster, remains seen to be Stormont: of which body the British troops are seen to be the mailed fist and the iron shield. It is bad enough for the British army to be seen to be the iron shield defending a community within the United Kingdom. It is far worse for it to be seen as the mailed fist held above the heads of another, smaller, community. It is Worst for it to be seen as the mailed fist and the iron shield not of Her Majesty's Government, not of Parliament, but of Stormont, the now maimed and from birth deformed political body of Orange Protestantism.

In this context Mr Heath's vigorous assertion at Harrogate is greatly to be welcomed: " I am very conscious that in the last resort is is the British Government which, as the sovereign power, bears the ultimate responsibility for the future of Northern Ireland. We cannot abdicate that responsibility." We do not ask (as have some) that that responsibility be abdicated. Far from it. We ask that it be accepted, and be seen to be accepted. We say that we are now " in " or arived at " the last resort" and that the British Government should assume "as the sovereign power," and be seen to be assuming, not only "the ultimate responsibility for the future of Northern Ireland" but also the immediate responsibility for its present governance. Insofar as it goes, Mr Heath's particular assurance is also welcome hearing, that the Government will use "ingenuity, persistence and determination to the full in discharging our responsibilities in Northern Ireland." However, the most fruitful part of his speech must be his enunciation of the two main by which the Government guided : "The first principle has ''dit Stated, but has lost none of its 0j100 It is that the status of Northern Irette as part of the United Kingdom can0°,0‘ changed except by consent. • ' ritY second principle is that the min °", Northern Ireland must be assureu, aol real and meaningful part in the tallet the decisions which shape future. . . ." Mr Heath's second principle cro be given practical political einhlot Within, by or through Stormont. d as plain as a pikestaff. Mr Heath an advisers, when they turn their 01111 major matters, as at last, and 11°t time, they appear to be doing supremely important Irish nlattef° neither fools nor fulltime users ° spectacles. It is impossible, excePtoo such glasses or through the e't bigotry, to imagine that StorrOrie' political embodiment of the prcit, majority, can ever now beconle in which the Catholic minority Cia assured of a real and meaning'm , the taking of decisions which ON, itV future." It follows that the C°;g1P existence of Stormont with anYtliv,1,e its present pretensions and P° incompatible with Mr Heath's e principle. The days of Storin0lit:0,5e1; and glory are passing. An 00%0; may remain: this is a matter 01 :or ence. What is not a matter ence is the manner of Stormont'o0' If it withers of itself into 13,rri■1 rump, then the advantage to having cut it to size will be immediate policy secures that and allows further policies to beet's' out in accordance with Mr 0e33,pef principles, and which at the sifd removes from the Army the ta' ing seen to be the mailed lp50' iron shield of Stormont?, The , t clear: the removal of Storn1011., 00: "Even now," said Mr WHO' ruary 1, " I remain of the vie/is assertion of direct rule, wrilic,ilto° the competence of this Hous'-coft,. would be an action of last re-roe Mr Maudling, later in the sadirect,.1; mons debate, agreed " being the last possible resort ttie,j' has said he has looked int° for' What, then, are they waiting