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Covenant article contains many basic mistakes

Published 11/12/2015

Liam Kennedy's article on the third Home Rule crisis (DebateNI, December 7) contains rather too many elementary howlers and misunderstandings.

For example, Prof Kennedy writes that almost 500,000 unionists signed the 1912 Covenant. He is wrong. Just over 237,000 men signed the Covenant; 234,000 women signed a related (but not identical) document, the Declaration.

He writes that the Covenant was treasonable. If Mr Kennedy is using treason in its technical legal sense, then he ought to show how the Covenant breached the-then legislation relating to that crime. I suspect he will fail in doing so.

He writes the Covenant's reference to Home Rule as a conspiracy is absurd. In doing so, Prof Kennedy is guilty of a failure to meet one of the historian's first duties: to understand the minds of those of whom he writes (and it must be added that to understand is not the same as to justify).

To early-20th century unionists, Home Rule was a conspiracy. Among the reasons were the fact that Home Rule had not been part of the Liberal programme in either of the two general elections of 1910. They also objected because the Liberals had limited the veto power of the Lords in the 1911 Parliament Act. To their mind the Liberals were altering the Constitution for party advantage.

He claims the Covenant "texts terror". He has not grasped that at the time it was signed unionist audiences were being assured by leading English politicians that the Liberals would back down in the end. There was also an expectation in the summer of 1912 that the Liberal administration was ailing and had not long to survive.

But the Liberals did survive - up to the outbreak of war and beyond. And the longer the Home Rule crisis lasted, the more heated the political atmosphere became.

Prof Kennedy writes that the unionists defeated Home Rule. In this, too, he is mistaken. The Home Rule Act passed in September 1914. Home Rule was defeated by the Easter Rising, the subsequent executions and the conscription crisis.

Unionist victory in 1920/1921, in devolution for part of Ulster, came in a context in which the Covenant no longer applied and the UVF had ceased to be.



Belfast Telegraph

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