Fr. Sean Mc Manus, President, Irish National Caucus.
“Fulfilling the Promise of Peace: Human Rights, Peace and Reconciliation in Northern Ireland and Bosnia.”
House Subcommittee on International Organizations, Human Rights and Oversight.
September 16, 2010.
Human rights must be the heart and soul of the Irish Peace Process. And a strong Bill of Rights must take center stage in Northern Ireland—an area that never showed much respect for human rights. Nor was it ever meant to.
The British Government by its 1920 Government of Ireland Act carved out and tore away six small counties (roughly the size of Rhode Island) from the rest of Ireland, partitioning that ancient country, and setting up the new artificial state as the largest area their Unionist/Protestant allies could control for the British Crown and for Unionist supremacy. Noted commentator Brian Feeny of the Belfast Irish News recently explained: “Talking about the north as an economic success gives credence to the notion that Northern Ireland emerged because it was a viable unit instead of carved out as the biggest chunk on the island unionists could control, a place where they could try to avoid living on equal terms with the rest of the people on the island”.1
However, the Good Friday Agreement 1998 and the power-sharing executive have dramatically changed things for the better:
. The sectarian anti-Catholic police militias have gone. The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) is making significant progress in becoming an acceptable police service to the Catholic community.
. Naked anti-Catholic discrimination has decreased.
. The IRA is no longer active. The British Army is off the street. Some Republican dissidents are still active, but with hardly any support.
. Loyalists deaths squads have ended their once systematic assassination campaign of innocent Catholics.
However, sadly and ironically, Loyalists paramilitaries—supposedly on ceasefire—are beating up and terrorizing some Protestant families. And the British Government and elements in the PSNI seem to turn a blind eye.
My Protestant, Unionist friend -- the heroic Raymond McCord Sr. of Belfast—last October testified before this Subcommittee on how the British Government and the Northern Ireland police colluded in the murder of his son Raymond Jr. in 1997. 2 Still, to this day, no arrest has been made—even though the British Government and the police know those responsible. The murder of young Raymond was ordered by a British agent and police informant as revealed by the Northern Ireland Ombudsman Report 2007. 3
The United States has played a key role in combating discrimination in Northern Ireland through the Mac Bride Principles, which the Irish National Caucus launched in November 1984. However, there is still reason for concern, and still much work to be done.
A recent Report by the NY State Comptroller’s office (with which the Irish National Caucus works closely) states that, “the Government economic development agencies… continue to steer outside investment toward Protestant areas, most especially those in and around Belfast”. 4
This helps to highlight one of the most profound and fundamental problems in Northern Ireland: the deep, historic anti-Catholic sectarianism upon which the State was founded.
However, there is little point in criticizing that sectarianism without repealing the Act of Settlement 1701, an integral part of the British Constitution, which institutionalizes and justifies that very sectarianism.
Would there have been any point in condemning racist Whites in the Deep South of America for their attitudes towards African-Americans without changing the laws and structures that justified racism?
In the same way, it does not make sense to just condemn Orange extremists who see themselves as faithfully upholding the letter, and logically fulfilling the spirit of the British Constitution, which requires of its subjects the acceptance of anti-Catholic discrimination and bigotry. The Act of Settlement 1701 is an integral part of the unwritten and uncodified British Constitution. It determines succession to the Crown of England, and is, therefore, a fundamental constitutional statute. Indeed, the very foundation stone of The Royal Family.
The Act of Settlement 1701 – still in force today -- bars a Catholic from succeeding to the British throne and decrees that if the monarch becomes a Catholic or marries a Catholic, he/she forfeits the throne and ‘‘the people are absolved from their allegiance’’.
The Act, therefore, enshrines and condones anti-Catholicism – officially establishing the principle that it is legitimate to discriminate against Catholics because under the law, they are not equal to Protestants.
Imagine if there were provisions in the United States Constitution barring a black person from being president or decreeing that the president could not marry a black person. Imagine how that would have justified and inflamed White supremacy and racism. And there would be little point in condemning the members of White racist organizations without first condemning – and organizing to repeal -- the pernicious provisions in the Constitution.
Orange bigotry merely reflects the anti-Catholicism that is enshrined, justified and practiced in the British Constitution. It was not the Orange Order that originated the sectarian Act of Settlement --- it was the British Monarchy and Parliament.
Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who did so much good work for justice and peace in Northern Ireland, declared the Act was “ plainly discriminatory”. Yet, even he, did not move to repeal the Act.
For all these reasons --and others besides -- it is still as important as ever for the U.S. Congress to stay actively involved in promoting unity and peace, human rights and equality, nonviolence, and reconstruction on the island of Ireland.
Irish- Americans congratulate Chairman Russ Carnahan for his commitment to human rights in Ireland and across the globe. He deserves great credit.
God bless America, and God save Ireland.
1 “SDLP displaced by Sinn Fein”. Brian Feeney. Irish News. Wednesday, August 11, 2010.
2 Hearing before the House Subcommittee on International Organizations, Human Rights and Oversight: “ Concerns Regarding Possible Collusion in Northern Ireland: Police and Paramilitary Groups”, on October 22, 2009.
3 “The Statutory Report -- sometimes referred to as “Operation Ballast” or “The O’Loan Report” -- was published on 22 January 2007, and can be found at www.policeombudsman.org”
4 Report on Northern Ireland Investment
[Prepared for the New York State Common Retirement Fund Pursuant to New York State Retirement and Social Security Law, § 423-a]. Thomas P. DiNapoli.New York State Comptroller. 2010.
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