Repartition of Ireland
The repartition of Ireland has been suggested as a possible solution to the conflict in Northern Ireland.
The 1922 partition of Ireland left Northern Ireland with a large Irish nationalist minority, mostly in the south and west, but with significant numbers in Belfast and some smaller communities in the north and east, whilst Irish unionists constitute a majority of the population in the north and east, with some smaller communities in the south and west. The geographical area in which unionists are a majority is less than half of Northern Ireland, but eastern areas have a much higher population density. Northern Ireland is divided, with unionists comprising approximately 48% of the population, and falling quickly. Unionists secured 11 of the 18 seats at the last general election in 2017, but, for the first time, just under 50% of the vote. None of the proposals for repartition are currently supported by any political party in Ireland.
1920 to 1969Edit
The idea was first mooted at the time the border was drawn up. Some Irish republicans, including Cahir Healy, while objecting to the partition in principle, argued in particular that County Fermanagh and County Tyrone should not be included in what became Northern Ireland, as they had a majority nationalist population. John Redmond also indicated that he would be prepared to accept this option.
The Boundary Commission fixed the current border in 1925, although the Irish Free State delegate (Professor Eoin MacNeill) had resigned in protest at its failure to respect the terms of the Treaty. Its decision was not published. The three governments, however, determined another agreement on 6 December 1925 (subject to parliamentary approval) which confirmed the existing boundary of Northern Ireland, along with other matters. This new agreement was approved by the Dáil (the lower house of the Free State parliament) by a vote of 71 to 20.
The 1937 Constitution of Ireland described the whole island of Ireland as the "National Territory", but this irredentist claim was dropped by the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. From then on, border changes must be approved by plebiscites in both jurisdictions.
1969 to 1980Edit
Repartition resurfaced as an option with the start of the Troubles. In 1972, the Conservative MP Julian Critchley published a pamphlet for the Bow Group advocating repartition, titled Ireland: A New Partition. Civil servants in London prepared a "last-ditch" plan in 1974, for possible use in the event of a full-scale civil war, which would have seen Roman Catholic inhabitants of the northeast forcibly moved to Fermanagh, southern Londonderry, Tyrone, South Armagh and South Down. Protestant inhabitants of those areas would have been moved into North Down, Antrim, Northern Londonderry and North Armagh. The nationalist areas would then have been ceded to the Republic of Ireland. An alternative plan simply involved "moving individual Catholics from their homes in Northern Ireland to new homes in the Republic". The plan was kept secret at the time and was revealed in 2002. In a 2006 essay, Garret FitzGerald, the Republic's Foreign Minister in 1974, revealed his government's opinions on repartition or a complete British withdrawal.
1980 to 1998Edit
Pollsters have rarely asked the population of Northern Ireland about their attitudes to repartition but it was asked twice in the early 1980s. In June 1981 and February 1982, the percentages of Protestants agreeing to repartition was 9% and 8%; the percentages for Catholics were 22% and 24%.
Research by Paul Compton of Queen's University of Belfast (QUB) fed into a secret 1984 briefing paper prepared by the Northern Ireland Office for then-Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, which examined various repartition schemes, the most extensive transferring to the Republic half of Northern Ireland's territory and one-third of its population, with West Belfast a "walled ghetto" enclave. The plans were quickly dismissed as impractical and politically unworkable. Later in 1984, then-Taoisaeach Garret FitzGerald spoke against repartition as reinforcing partition.
In 1986, QUB economic historian Liam Kennedy published a book-length study of repartition called Two Ulsters: A Case for Repartition.
During the late 1980s, repartition was repeatedly proposed by assorted individuals and small groups. It became popular in some sections of the Ulster nationalist movement, who were keen to establish a state with a large Protestant majority. Conversely, the Ulster Movement for Self-Determination proposed an enlarged state of Ulster, including all the historic province. This state, were it to have been created, would have had almost equal numbers of nationalists and unionists.
In early January 1994, the Ulster Defence Association (UDA) released a document calling for repartition combined with ethnic cleansing, with the goal of making Northern Ireland wholly Protestant. The plan was to be implemented should the British Army withdraw from Northern Ireland. The vastly Irish Catholic and nationalist areas would be handed over to the Republic, and those left stranded in the "Protestant state" would be "expelled, nullified, or interned". The story was printed in the Sunday Independent newspaper on 16 January. The "doomsday plan" was based on the work of Liam Kennedy, though he had not proposed ethnic cleansing. Sammy Wilson, then press officer for the Democratic Unionist Party and later the MP for East Antrim, spoke positively of the document, calling it a "valuable return to reality" and lauded the UDA for "contemplating what needs to be done to maintain our separate Ulster identity".
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