Our Plan to End Partition            [1962]

[This twelve-page pamphlet by C. Desmond Greaves was published by the Connolly Association in 1962, priced sixpence.  By 1962 the Association’s political work in the previous years had got over half the British Parliamentary Labour Party to sign a series of telegrams to Northern Ireland Premier Lord Brookeborough calling for the release of the two hundred or so people who had been interned without charge in Belfast following the late 1950s IRA campaign. The CA had also organised three “freedom marches” – one from London to Birmingham, one from Liverpool to Nottingham and one from Liverpool to London – as part of its campaign in British Labour and Trade Union circles to expose the civil liberties abuses taking place under the Unionist Government in Northern Ireland. This pamphlet was one of a series of documents written by C.D. Greaves for the Connolly Association during the 1960s which advocated a political approach to solving the Northern Ireland problem and moving toward a united independent Ireland.]

Ireland One Country

When the Irish Freedom marchers tramped across England they carried the banner “Ireland One Country”.1They did this for the simple reason that Ireland is one country. And just because Ireland is one country, it cannot be satisfactorily run by three Governments at one time. What is wanted is one good Government for the whole country, and by good Government we mean a Government prepared to put the interests of the Irish people before any vested interest, however powerful.

Under partition, British finance dominates the whole of Ireland. There is no partition for the take-over men. The partition is for the Irish people, who because they are divided between two States cannot assert their rights in their own land. All over island family farms are being sold, land let down to grass, small shops and businesses giving way before the relentless march of big capital. The border is the financier’s protection. He can manipulate as he pleases, skipping from one side to the other with the stroke of a pen – but the Irish people have not got the means to keep on his track. Partition sees to that.

Partition means that the industrial Northeast cannot serve the agricultural Southwest. Consequently Antrim’s industry looks overseas and is subject to every economic wind that blows. And while Six-County engineers are laid off, in the Twenty-Six counties the government has to give sugar plums to foreign investors to persuade them to start factories in the South.

Partition means all-powerful British finance sucks the blood from the Irish nation, while the divided people can do little to prevent it. The fight against imperialism will not end when partition is abolished. The real fight against imperialism will only begin. For what must take place then is what the great patriot James Connolly called “the reconquest of Ireland by the Irish people”. This cannot begin until the Irish people are united.

Illusions

Some people are saying that there is no need to do anything about partition now because it will disappear of its own accord.

Don’t believe it. Imperialism never gives up without a struggle.

There is only one condition on which British imperialism would consent to the reunification of the Irish people. That condition we could have accepted at any time since 1922, and it is still being flaunted before us: namely, that Ireland should abandon its claim to distinct nationality and come back into the United Kingdom. In other words, accept a status like Scotland or Wales. No Irishman would consent to this.

But a warning is needed against a new variant of the old proposal. People are saying that if we come into the Common Market, then the border will fade away. But they are very mistaken if they imagine that the terms British Imperialism will offer will be any different. Britain will repeat what she said before, “Give up your claim distinct nationality and you can unite as part of Britain”.

This is not the place to discuss the Common Market. But let us be clear, if we want a united independent Ireland we have got to work and struggle for it. It will never be handed to us on a plate. All we will be given free is another chance to enslave ourselves.

Realism needed

Any plan to end partition must be realistic. It must be based on actual facts that are in front of us, and not on the products of somebody’s imagination or enthusiasm. It is impossible to “make” a revolution. Revolutions or any major political changes short of revolution arise from historical necessities. They are not “thought up” by people, however clever, nor are they “carried through” by any man, however heroic.

This is the first political lesson those wishing to end partition must learn. Until this is learned there is little point in pursuing the matter further.

Certain conditions are required before partition can be ended. The task of the anti-partitionist is to create those conditions. Roughly speaking we can say the conditions are as follows: partition will end inevitably when the majority of the Irish people, North and South, make a firm united demand that British Imperialist shall get out of Ireland, and are backed up by the majority of the British working people who see support for Ireland as a part of their own struggle against Toryism and reaction. Perhaps that seems a tall order. Without for one moment suggesting that it will be easy to bring such conditions into being, let us just look more closely at the facts and see whether it is as impossible as it might look at first sight.

The Six Counties

It is close on fifteen years since the Connolly Association said that the time would come when the unionist-minded workers of Belfast would realise that the security and prosperity they thought they would get by remaining with Britain, could only be got by joining up with their fellow-countrymen in Dublin and elsewhere in an effort to break the power of big business and run Ireland for the Irish. 

At that time the Unionists were boasting of their prosperity. They were very superior when they looked across the border at the attempts being made by Fianna Fail to get industries started.

But they are smiling on the other side of their face now. Their British friends are gobbling them up. The take-over man is at it full tilt. Not a week passes without men laid off, without factories closing down. Eight percent of the workers are unemployed. Thousands of small farmers leave the land every year. What has happened is that it is becoming apparent that British Imperialism is only in the Six Counties for what it can get out of them. This is a land where wealth accumulates but men decay.

Under such conditions the Unionist-minded workers, fed for years on prejudice, sectarianism and false promises, do not swing immediately against partition. That would be too much to expect. But they feel around for an alternative, and quite naturally they look first for somebody who will right their immediate grievances. Some turn to Labour, or some section of Labour. Others may turn Liberal, or even support some discontented independent Unionist. But there is one certainty. Far worse is in store for the Six Counties. British Imperialism has not sated its appetite. The election that has just taken place will be the last one where the Unionist Party is sure of winning a majority of the seats. Once the Unionist Party loses its certain majority the way becomes open for the Nationalists and Labour to come together on a coalition programme. As soon as that happens the struggle against British Imperialism will spring up like a forest fire. The stability of the Unionist regime will have been undermined for ever.

And let us have no doubts. This is the way things are going. They are going that way because they must go that way. British imperialism must rob, must squeeze, must dictate. And the working people who have been deceived and led away from the Republicanism of Jamie Hope and Henry Joy McCracken, must learn their error from their experiences. For the Belfast Protestant is still an Irishman, and in his heart even now he knows we are right.

The great thing required in the Six Counties just now is therefore to unite all the forces that are prepared to stand against Unionism, and for each section to show tolerance and mutual comprehension in the face of the common enemy.

The Twenty-Six Counties

The situation South and West of the border is different. Some people think that the Twenty-Six counties is a puppet state on a par with Stormont. But this is a mistake. The Six-Counties is politically dependent on Britain. The Westminster Parliament has power under Section 75 of the Government of Ireland Act over “every person, matter and thing” in Northern Ireland. Political dependence of course automatically carries with it economic dependence.

The Leinster House Government of the contrary can pass what laws it likes and has power over every person and thing in the Twenty-Six  Counties – not denying that there are those who criticise the use it makes of this power. Where the Leinster House Government lacks adequate freedom of action is in the economic field. There is so much big British business in the State that the Government is afraid of it, or, as some suggest, works in with it.

But despite what its critics say in Britain and the Six Counties, Irish nationalism is judged in the world mainly on the showing of the Dublin Government. Patriotic Irish people in the Twenty-Six Counties will therefore want the Dublin Government to be the best Government possible. The existing Government has up to now earned world respect for its policy of promoting world peace and maintaining neutrality. It has been less commended in other fields – looking after living standards, preventing emigration, making a real fight against partition. These deficiencies to a great extent resulted from the constant and unremitting pressure of British big business, which does not want the Republic to progress rapidly, for fear the people of the Northeast should begin to think of national unity.

Every advance in industrialization, social services, wages and democratic development that takes place in the Twenty-Six Counties should be hailed with special pleasure by Irish people throughout the world as a blow against partition. And it requires no deep insight to appreciate that the more the unity of the common people of the Twenty-Six Counties develops, the better the chance of removing the weaknesses and building on the strong points. This would happen very quickly indeed if all Republicans were in the Labour Movement helping to give it a Republican policy.

But alongside the fight for progress in the Twenty-Six Counties itself, and as the confidence of the people grows, there will inevitably be forged links across the border. As those links grow there will be increasing attempts to curb the operations of British Imperialism in the two severed portions of Ireland. There will be more and more demands made on Britain.

And the end point to which all developments against Imperialism within Ireland irresistibly moves is this: the demand to Britain that she must get out. It is when that demand is sufficiently strongly made in Ireland, and is backed up by the people of Britain, that partition will have seen its last days.

British Responsibility

As has been indicated above, we regard partition as one of the barriers erected by British Imperialism to block the progress of the Irish people towards peace, prosperity and a rising standard of living.

We say erected by British Imperialism, and we mean it. Partition was not made in Ireland. It is not primarily an internal Irish question. Those who pretend it is can never read the Government of Ireland Act, 1920, or indeed the new Act of 1962, making a whole set of new laws for the north-eastern counties. 

If this is true, then all roads lead to London. Britain is the key point of the struggle. When the Irish national movement has built itself up and united itself to a position when it can hurdle a challenge to Imperialism, the demand “Britain get out” will be addressed to London. It is a British Government which must give the order to the troops, “withdraw” or “stay put”.

For that reason it is an utter absurdity to say, as some people do, that what Government rules in Britain, or what its policy is, has no interest for Irish people. On the contrary, the complexion of the Government in Britain is of interest to us only a little less than the complexion of Government in Ireland – and to the Irishman in Britain it is of equal or even greater interest.

Do Your Own Job

It must be obvious of course that very little can be done in the Twenty-Six Counties to secure a Government in Britain favourable to Irish national demands. All that can be done is to win the best reputation that is possible. And remember a reputation for standing up and fighting is a better reputation than one for going down on your knees.

There is not all that much that can be done in the Six-Counties either to influence the complexion of a British Government. True, 12 MPs come from the Six-Counties to Westminster. A couple of Labour men and a couple of Nationalists would be welcome voices there just now. But in terms of votes they are as lost as Ireland will be in the Council of Ministers of the EEC.

The responsibility for influencing the political scene in Britain therefore falls to the Irish in Britain. And we should be well able to do it, since there are a million of us here, and thousands more arrive every year.

Some of our emigrants imagine they are serving Ireland best by acting as if they were still at home and trying to form branches of Irish parties over here. They think they can help the party of their choice by making statements and running campaigns in Britain. But this is illusory. Let the Irish in Ireland look after the struggle in Ireland. Let the Irish in Britain look after the struggle in Britain, and each will then do the job he or she is best placed to do. But of course let there be mutual consultation and a feeling of fraternity between Irish people everywhere.

The Keystone

The keystone of the Conolly Association plan for ending partition is therefore to enlist the services of British democracy in the struggle for Irish freedom. 

Has it ever been tried before?

Indeed it has, and with considerable success. Wolfe Tone maintained touch with the London Corresponding Society. John Mitchel allied himself – much to Daniel O’Connell’s disgust – with the British Chartists. In the greatest conjunction of Irish forces in modern times, the “New Departure”, Charles Stewart Parnell and Michael Davitt stumped Britain, talking to gatherings of London workers in the streets and to Hebridean crofters on the braes. In the dark days of the Black and Tans Sinn Fein repeatedly enlisted the services of British Labour men whose commission of enquiry was quoted almost as often as Erskine Childers’s articles in the “Daily News”.

It has been tried before, but not lately, until the Connolly Association started trying it.

Not Simple

Let nobody imagine that all that is necessary is to issue a call to British democrats and they will at once follow. That would be as mistaken as the contrary view that nothing can be done with them at all.

What we need to do is to win the support of a major political force in British politics to support the Irish struggle for independence.

This will not happen all at once. It will not all be plain sailing. No big job is a simple job. And we must remember that there will be those who will try to prevent it.

But the principle is plain enough. And its application is simple also, since there are only two major forces in British politics, the Imperialists and the working class. The force we must rely on is the working class and those whose thoughts and interests run the same way.

Why It Can Be Done

For those who doubt that this can be done, it is necessary to explain why it can be done.

 In every big British city today you can see hundreds of young people – you come across them everywhere – wearing the badge of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. This badge denotes that the wearer does not believe that Britain should strive to remain an imperial power at the risk of the lives of its inhabitants. Perhaps there are not so many of them, but you still see them, who wear the Anti-Apartheid badge. The wearers of these badges are prepared to boycott South Africa’s negro-baiting dictators even if it means the British imperialists lose all their investments there. And then there are the rapidly increasing number of young and old who support the Movement for Colonial Freedom.

This movement, started by Mr Fenner Brockway MP, has successfully made “imperialism” a dirty word in the working-class movement – the Labour Party, Trade Unions etc.  – in this country.

What does it all mean? It means that British Imperialism’s continuous series of defeats, especially after the Suez debacle, has convinced a growing section of the working-class people that the game of imperialism is not worth a candle. It only leads to British boys getting killed. Why should they be killed because the British Tories can’t keep their hands off other peoples’ countries?

It means more than this. It means the discredit of Tory imperialism is on the increase. It is going to grow and grow. The chances of getting British working people to act against imperialism are getting better all the time.

One of the achievements the Connolly Association can claim credit for is that it has brought the question of Ireland into this anti-imperialist upsurge, and that thousands of young workers and Trade Unionists now know that the difference between Lord Brookeborough and Dr. Verwoerd2 is only one of degree.

Tactics

Any political struggle requires tactics.

As we said at the start, every action is subject to existing conditions. These exist before you start and you must act accordingly.

We want a three-pronged attack on British imperialism, in Britain, the Six-Counties and in the Republic. The centre prong is the struggle of the national forces in the Six Counties.

Our proposal regarding the tactics of the Irish in Britain is a simple one. We should give every possible aid and comfort to those in the Six Counties who are fighting imperialism in their various ways. We are not to blame for the fact that they are still disunited. We believe that that disunity is only a temporary phase. If Wolfe Tone could unite the people in 1798, others can do it in the nineteen sixties. In the meantime we will support all efforts which are in the interests of the Irish people against imperialism, to the degree that we are in a position to do so.

To show what this means practically, here is an example.

The Six-County Nationalist Party puts in a memorandum to Mr Butler demanding an impartial inquiry into the serious allegations of religious discrimination in the North. Not surprisingly, Mr Butler drops the memorandum in his pocket and no more is heard of it.

Mr Butler will certainly not act unless there is a mass demand in Britain for such an enquiry. Such an enquiry would provide an opportunity for the Nationalists to expose the Six-County Tories before the world, and in particular before the British people. And many grievances would be rightly aired.

So the Connolly Association organises demonstrations and a petition calling on Mr Butler to appoint a commission of enquiry into all the allegations by various parties of undemocratic practises in the Six-Counties. Twenty-six members of Parliament associate themselves with this demand.

Importance 

The importance of such work is that it helps the national movement in Ireland in the particular thing it is trying to do at the moment.

 It must be obvious that the greatest obstacle to turning out the Brookeborough Government is the way it has barricaded itself in Stormont behind a mountain of anti- democratic legislation.

Consider the gerrymandering, the restriction of the franchise, the Special Powers Acts, the religious and political discrimination, the control of education even of nationalist children, and the alleged interference with the freedom of radio broadcasting. Then there is the refusal to recognise the Northern Ireland Committee of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions. These restrictions of freedom to speak, work and organise against the Unionists must be swept away. If they were swept away the confidence engendered among the nationally minded population would become boundless, and the effort to attain unity would be enormously strengthened.

The Westminster Parliament has the power to compel Lord Brookeborough to restore democracy. So let us demand that it does so.

Incidentally, the Westminster Parliament also has the power to forbid Lord Brookeborough to restore democracy even in the teeth of the strongest public demand for it – another reason why we should be interested in the complexion of the British Government.

Keep It Up

There is scarcely a day goes by when some shocking injustice is not perpetrated by the Unionists of the Six-Counties.

Yet every opponent of theirs will tell you one thing. Up to the present the only thing the Unionists fear is the displeasure of their British Imperial masters. Protests from Britain, making it hot for the Tory Party over here, are very effective in curbing the anti- democratic energy of the Northern Ireland bigwigs. 

Of course the time is fast coming when the Unionists will not know who to be afraid of most – the British boss, or the people at home will think that maybe they could with advantage be the boss. That will be when the people are united.

The essence of our policy is to roll back the weight of oppression from the nationally minded people of the Six-Counties, and to do it in a way that helps them to do what they want done, and causes their enemies the maximum embarrassment.

As the weight of oppression is rolled back, so the unity of the people will grow, and so will the prospect of a wider unity against Unionism. Popular demands will grow bolder. The results of popular actions will go deeper. The cracks in the Unionist edifice will become more apparent.

And at each stage the British working-class movement which is helping in the struggle against Unionism will gain fresh experience and become more ready to take the next step in the direction of Ireland One Country: “Ireland her own from the sod to the sky”.

Objections

We have mentioned the objections of those who think the British working class cannot be educated to support Irish independence. The answer is that people form their opinions from their own experience. When the British Empire covered the world, many Englishmen thought it was a fine thing. Today as it shrinks away in the shadows, they are not so interested in it. Indeed many of them are thinking of trying the policy of co-operating with underdeveloped countries since they cannot order them about. And frankly, their motives do not concern us since we are only interested in the result. Among the young people at any rate there is a strong idealistic enthusiasm for a Britain free from Imperialism and war. We must recognise these facts, as part of the changes life brings with time.

Some people may say in criticism that our plan takes too long. They want something which will unite Ireland all at one blow. 

But is there any short cut? Short cuts have been tried. Have they met with the success that was hoped for? Is it possible to end partition until we have created the necessary conditions for ending it?  We think not.

Ireland Act 1949

Some people feel hesitant about working with the Labour Party after the Ireland Act 1949.

That that Act was utterly ill conceived, and did the Labour Party irreparable harm, is now widely recognised. But it is thirteen years ago. There is no way yet invented of going back to 1949, altering things that happened then, and then coming back to 1962 to reap the advantages of the change. The past can only be altered in the present and the future. Surely a practical man will prefer to make his alterations in the present rather than in the future. Sometime Labour as a whole must be weaned away from the policy of the Ireland Act. Why not begin now? Are we in favour of leaving things as they are?

And again, how many of those who promoted the Ireland Act are still in the House of Commons? How many will be after next election? We would not hesitate to accept the help of a Tory if he wanted to have a smack at his own crowd in Northern Ireland. There is no sound reason for keeping up the suspicion of Labour. Handsome is as handsome does, and Labour MPs are now actively fighting for the democratisation of north-eastern Ireland.

 It must never be forgotten that the fundamental reason for the failure of the Anti- Partition League in Britain was that it ignored the Labour Movement.

A point about that movement which is often not understood is that the leaders are far more sensitive to what their members say and think than, for example, the Liberal or Conservative parties. Indeed, it is safe to say that if there had been created among the rank-and-file of the Labour and Trade Union movement the firm and sympathetic knowledge of Ireland and Irish demands that we are striving to create today, the Ireland Act 1949 would never have been passed.

One cause of the failure to do this was the existence of divisions and rivalries among Irish organisations in Britain. The blame was not all on one set of shoulders. But we must learn from experience. The art of politics is not to increase the number of one’s enemies. Let us fight the real enemy and leave the others be.

Finally, a word to those who believe that only “physical force” can free Ireland. The Connolly Association does not believe it is possible to free Ireland without a hard struggle. Nor does it offer any guarantee that nobody will in fact offer physical violence at some point, since there are too many factors in the situation to permit safe prophecy. But it does believe that given the establishment of unity among all those interested in a united independent Ireland, there is the possibility, and we believe a good and improving possibility, that political action alone will suffice. We are aiming precisely at that, and have every expectation of succeeding.

We would point out to those who do not share our confidence that this present time is generally admitted to be only suitable for political action. Why not therefore draw the same conclusions the Fenians drew when John Devoy decided that the time for physical force had passed, at any rate for the time being. Why not a new departure? Why not try to free Ireland by political means now, when physical force is admittedly not practicable?  You will at worst lose nothing, and at best be saved a lot of trouble and fighting.

How To Do It

The winning of the working-class movement in Britain and the carrying out of successive actions in favour of democracy in the Six-Counties, obviously places heavy demands on the million Irish in Britain. 

It is obvious that we must organise.

Most people would probably concede that the main Irish organisation fighting partition in Britain is the Connolly Association. Our campaigns have received worldwide publicity. In the fight for the release of the Belfast internees we not only brought in Trade Unionists to the tune of one and a half million, but we had the support of more than half the Labour MPs, and of one Liberal. We even pulled in the support of Trade Unions in Canada and Australia.

The massive correspondence dealt with every day in our London office is a testimony to the work that is done. The “Irish Democrat” has been published for well over 20 years and now enjoys its greatest ever circulation.

It would be hypocritical of us if we did not ask the Irish in Britain in these present conditions to join the Connolly Association. The old slander about its having ulterior motives going beyond the freedom of Ireland is believed by no serious person these days. The Connolly Association is fighting for a united independent Ireland, and to defend the Irish in Britain from any discriminatory actions by Government, employers, etc. When Ireland is free and united, provided there is no strong call for action on the second question, the Association will disband. We hope the development of Ireland will then be so rapid that most of us can go home.

The Association has no aims whatsoever beyond the interest of Irish people in these two questions. It has no private aims. All its aims are public. Its members elect its executive council at a conference held every year.  All members have a say in deciding its policy.

United Action

We want to see a much bigger Connolly Association, since numbers make up strength.

 But we are not jealous of other Irish organisations. When anything is done by another Irish organisation to further the cause of Irish freedom, we are pleased. The more the merrier.

At the same time we put it most seriously to the smaller Irish organisations, why not amalgamate with us? It is no use having the forces of the Irish scattered over dozens of small platforms. To the larger ones we say, why not co-operate with us? Could we not meet and discuss how the Irish in Britain can present a united face to the party of imperialism?

 It is not a matter of fusing where there is a real difference of policy. An organisation can only have one policy. We believe our plan to end partition is the only one that will work. But there are people who agree with some parts of it and disagree with others. Would it not be sound common sense for us to co-operate on the parts we agree over, and go our separate ways where we differ? 

Could we not for example decide that in 1963 there will be only one Easter meeting in London, and that there will be a united platform? Could there not be a united platform in Moston when we commemorate the Manchester Martyrs?

The Connolly Association is prepared to discuss united action with other Irish nationalist organisations at any time. We will support anything that will strengthen the front against British imperialism.

If the general plan of policy put forward above meets with the approval of the majority of the Irish in Britain, and it is pushed forward with the energy we intend to devote to it, we believe that before this decade is out, Ireland will be  a united independent country building up her own Irish way of life for the benefit of the ordinary man and woman.

  1. This was the third and longest of the three civil rights marches that the Connolly Association organised in Britain in 1961-62. It took place over Easter 1962, when some dozen CA members walked the 220 or so miles from Liverpool to London via Manchester, Birmingham, Oxford and Reading over a ten-day period. They were met by larger groups of local supporters from Labour and CND organisations in the towns along the way and held evening meetings in these places, sometimes contacting local politicians or media. Desmond Greaves and the editor of this website, who joined the group while on vacation from his work in Dublin, were among those who walked the full distance. Strictly speaking, these were the first marches for civil rights in Northern Ireland, although they took place in Britain rather than in Ireland. The idea of holding them would have been partly inspired by the Aldermaston CND marches that were major events in those years, and perhaps by recollections of the Jarrow unemployed marches of the 1930s.
  • Dr H.F Verwoerd,1901-1966, Prime Minister of South Africa and a key architect of the Apartheid policy there.