3 APRIL 1971, Page 24


From: Muriel Anderson, Ewart Milne, 0. J. Whitley, Charles Har- ris and others.

Faulkner's Ulster

Sir: The British press is almost unanimous in giving the Stormont parliament its last chance under Mr Faulkner. I, on the contrary, wonder if and when Westminster is going to give it its first chance of a normal political life. The search- light is beamed in the wrong direc- tion and all eyes are so mesmerised by the nasty symptoms of the Ulster sickness that Westminster escapes castigation for failing to create the conditions which would make a cure possible. Westminster alone can create a constitutional framework which would make the unionism or re- publicanism of the electorate irrelevant to Ulster's political life, yet all it does is to stand by while the unionists exhaust themselves in a bitter internecine struggle be- tween the moderates and the right wing which is largely irrelevant to the basic issue and, no doubt, brings joy to Ulster's enemies. The problem is, and always has been, how to integrate republicans fully into the political life of the pro- vince without upsetting the con- stitutional status quo against the wishes of the majority and without compromising anyone's principles in the matter. If anyone thinks it can be done within the present constitutional framework (as Mr Callaghan and, evidently, the pre- sent government seem to think), let him ask why the very moderate Mr Bleakley finds it necessary to belong to an exclusively unionist party—the Northern Ireland Lab- our party. Or again, what secret formula does the official Unionist party possess which enables it to hold power for fifty years, or even to hold together at all, in spite of the fact that its members are gathered from all social classes and represent every shade of the normal political spectrum? It is noteworthy that the pragmatic Mr Faulkner, in seeking to form a broad based cabinet representative of all shades of opinion, has been able to include a member of the Labour party but could not include a representative of Ulster's largest minority—the republicans.

The fundamental constitutional defect, which has caused and will cause all efforts to founder until it is removed, lies in the fact that control of the Northern Ireland parliament is synonymous with control of the constitutional posi- tion of the province. The Ireland Act, 1949, guarantees this position by stating that 'in no event will Northern Ireland or any part there- of cease to be part of His Majesty's dominions and of the United King-

dom without the consent of the parliament of Northern Ireland'. Thus the Stormont parliament,

uniquely, plays the role of consti- tutional custodian—a role which is completely incompatible (where disagreement exists) with its proper function as a provincial legislature. Unionism and republicanism are not political creeds. They are a constitutional stance. Yet the poli- tical parties have had, perforce, to align themselves on this basis.

Westminster alone has the power to release Ulster from its bondage by amending the Ireland Act, 1949, so that Northern Ireland's status as part of the United Kingdom can be changed only with the consent of the people, consulted by means of a referendum confined to that issue alone. Such referenda should be obligatory at intervals which would allow each generation to decide for itself. This alone will free Stormont to perform its proper function and the electorate to group themselves politically in their own best interests regardless of constitutional considerations. It is a constitutionally neutral meas- ure in that it does not weaken the guarantee and neither brings nearer nor puts back the possibility of any change.

If Westminster drags its feet on this basic reform, whether for doctrinaire objections to the prin- ciple of referenda or for any other reason, it will be evading its clear moral duty and putting more lives at risk in the process—and Stor- mont will have no chance at all.

Muriel Anderson (Miss) 3b Fitzroy Lodge, The Grove, Lon- don N6