As one who also reported on Irish affairs for many years, I watched the at best muddled, at worst cynical process by which that neutrality was arrived at. Successive British governments defended the troops' presence in Ulster on the ground that the 'majority' of people there wanted them, thus misapplying the meaning the terms majority and minority have in a consensus society (where each side is prepared to accept the other's will) to a sectarian one (where neither side is). That is a bit like justifying direct rule from Athens on the ground that Cyprus has more Greeks than Turks.
Having embarked on the numbers game, when in 1974 the government opened the door to the possibility of a future United Ireland, it could do so only by pledging that we would abandon our Greeks the moment they were outnumbered by the nationalist Turks, which on current population trends will presently happen.
Our responsibilities towards the Protestant community arise not from its numbers but our history (we sent it there). The problem is how best to reconcile those responsibilities with Britain's national self-interest, in the name of which William Pitt created the Union with Ireland and which must largely determine the future of what is left of it.
This raises complex and seldom-
discussed issues, but it is a perfectly logical and coherent basis for British policy, which cannot be said for a 'neutrality' resulting from nearly 25 years' worth of giving cheese answers to chalk questions.
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