This is the text of a speech by David Kerr to the Conference of Secessionist and Independence groups hosted by Third Way in London on 23 February 1997. David is the Editor of Ulster Nation, and a member of the National Executive of the Third Way.
When we talk about a “nation” we are not talking about a piece of real-estate, although the ability to hold on to a particular piece of territory is one of the important characteristics of nationhood. We are talking about identity — a set of inherited racial, cultural, linguistic and, often, shared religious characteristics which a given people have in common and of which they are aware.
Such a nation is something natural which has grown up over generations. The people of my nation have a spirit of self-consciousness. They know that they are different from the peoples around them and they generally have the will and the determination to preserve and protect their distinct identity and heritage. On all of these grounds it is evident that such a thing as an Ulster nation does exist.
This is, however, by no means universally recognised. Otherwise admirable groups such as the Celtic League are quite willing to give nation status to Cornwall and the Isle of Man as well as to Scotland, Wales and Brittany — but they only see “Ireland” across the water. This is of course a great shame. Irish nationalism, which gained an independent Irish state in 1921, was not satisfied with that; it degenerated into national-chauvinism as the new State sought to incorporate Ulster into its territory and claimed it in its Constitution. That same State cracked down heavily on “subversives” at home but gave them more than a nod and a wink to do what they liked in “the Black North” and in England.
Ulster has always been different from the rest of the island of Ireland. In particular it has had stronger links with Scotland than with the South. The North Channel was not a barrier in ancient times — being only some twenty miles wide at its narrowest point — but rather it was a maritime highway which was regularly crossed by folk moving and settling in both directions. The ancient kingdom of Dalriada had one foot in Scotland and another in Ulster. On the other hand, thick forests, boggy country and a large earthworks barrier called the Black Pig’s Dyke served to cut Ulster off from the rest of the island. Ireland was only governed as a single entity from Dublin Castle under British rule. Partition in 1921 reflected rather than engendered significant differences between the two nations in the island.
Since the foundation of the ‘Northern Ireland’ state as a British province in 1921 there have been several attempts to undermine it and to incorporate it by force into an All-Ireland state. Most Ulsterfolk are unionists, believing that their right to self-determination is best protected under the umbrella of the British state. The British state, however, has been at best ambivalent about its relationship with its troubled province. It has given the government of the Irish Republic a role in Ulster’s administration, it has declared “no selfish, strategic or economic interest” in what is supposed to be an integral part of the kingdom, and it has constantly sought to appease or buy-off Irish republican terrorism.
Since 1969 Ulster has been fighting for its life. The Provisional IRA, one of the most ruthless and effective torrorist groups around today, was set up with help from senior Dublin government ministers to smash the Ulster state and to annex its territory. The Provisional IRA and it mouthpiece Sinn Féin later took on a life of its own. For 25 years it fought, but it could not undermine Ulster’s will to resist. Although the British government was hell-bent on appeasing them, this was not true of the majority of Ulsterfolk; they were no more likely to accede to pan-Irish national-chauvinist demands in 1994 than they were in 1969 or in 1921.
The IRA have recognised this and have sought to hit prestige targets in England, such as the Baltic Exchange and Bishopsgate. Their aim is to get the British government to do their dirty work for them, ie. “persuade” the Protestants by whatever means necessary to surrender and to accept a “settlement”. Some unionists may be amenable to this. Martin McGuinness of Sinn Féin is looking for a “DeKlerk figure” to come out of Ulster, to lead a surrender movement. He may have some wait!
One significant feature of the past fifteen years has been a growing awareness of their common distinct Ulster identity by many former unionists and a few former Irish nationalists. Ulsterfolk ar learning more of their history, about their links with Scotland and their rich linguistic heritage, and they are forging a new Ulster-nationalist movement.
The Third Way and Ulster Nation magazines have since their inception supported this welcome trend. Ulster Nation has sought to give a consistent radical Ulster-nationalist interpretation of political, cultural and historical events in Ulster over the past seven years.
This interpretation has now gone worldwide, through the Internet. Ulster Nation has supported the formation of a broad Ulster National Congress. This is beginning to coalesce as the Ulster Independence Movement grows in strength and influence.
We argue that independence for Ulster will finally bring peace to this troubled corner of our common European homeland. The bogey of “British imperialism” will have gone away and the issues will be clear; it will be the right of a small nation to exist and to defend its interests against agressors operating from a neighbouring country. Ulster can do this and hold out the hand of friendship to its neighbours in these islands, and to others struggling to win their rights and recognition throughout the world.