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We live with the bitter harvest Carson sowed

Published 16/12/2015

I am happy to respond to Colin Armstrong's objections to my assessment of the Ulster Covenant and the unionist campaign to block Home Rule for Ireland (Write Back, December 11).

If he cares to look at my recent book Unhappy The Land: The Most Oppressed People Ever, The Irish?, he will see that the minor distinction between the Covenant, signed by the "men of Ulster" and the Declaration, signed by the "women of Ulster" is clearly drawn.

But the thrust of the two documents is the same. Women were hugely important in promoting the unionist campaign. Hopefully we wouldn't wish to set their 234,000 signatures so easily aside. Or would we?

On treason, my concern is with the motives of some - a minority - of Covenanters, who had every intention of defying the lawful authority of the State and by force of arms if necessary.

Mr Armstrong's attempt to explain how Ulster unionists could judge the Home Rule campaign as a "conspiracy" leads him into rather strained reasoning, if not outright apologetics.

Demands for Home Rule had been a constant in Irish public life since the 1880s at least. That some Ulster unionist leaders could be taken in by the wishful thinking he describes and that they could so misjudge the politics of the period 1912-14 are further indications of their political and strategic incompetence.

It is true that the Home Rule Act was placed on the statute book. The important point is that it was not implemented. The Covenanters sowed bitter seeds in 1912-14, with irresponsible rhetoric, parading, drilling and gun-running, and they subsequently reaped the blackened harvest.

Mr Armstrong avoids the link to the Rising in Dublin in 1916, which was one of the key points of the article. As I argued, Sir Edward Carson bears a heavy responsibility for undermining constitutional politics in Ireland by indulging in political brinkmanship that rested, at least in part, on an appeal to paramilitary arms.

I doubt if even he could have looked back with satisfaction on how it all turned out.

PROFESSOR LIAM KENNEDY

Institute of Irish Studies

Queen's University, Belfast

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