Letter: The conflict in Northern Ireland: origins and solutions

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From Mr M. Ghirelli

Sir: "The Catholic Church remains absolutely central to Ireland's sense of itself as a nation" - so writes Conor Gearty ("When church and state divorce", 27 November). He thereby implicitly denies that a million Ulster Protestants can ever truly be regarded as Irish. Short of forcible mass conversion to the faith of Rome, or some sort of programme of ethnic cleansing in Ulster and the repatriation of Protestants to Britain, how then could the hope of Irish unity ever be fulfilled?

In fact, of course, the nationalist movement in Ireland has always based its arguments for unity on geography - the fact that Ireland is a single island and that anybody from there must necessarily be Irish. Perversely, most Irish would quite happily see the division of the neighbouring island of Britain into two states - who can doubt that they would support any move by their fellow Celts in Scotland to seek independence from Westminster? For they would see the Scots as a separate nation with the right to self- rule, a people who simply happen to live on the same island as the English.

But they have a different logic for Ireland: the nationalists claim all their fellow islanders as compatriots simply because they are fellow islanders. So it is that the nationalists deny Ulster people their separate ethnic identity and insist that the six counties must be ruled from Dublin - however much Ulster Protestants may object to Irishness being foisted upon them. But geography counts little for Ulster people: they will continue to resist rule from Dublin precisely because they know that too many in the Republic share Conor Gearty's perception that the only real Irish are Catholics.

Hopefully, the vote for a change to the divorce laws might just begin to convince people in Northern Ireland that there is beginning to prevail south of the border a new perception of what defines an Irish person.

Yours,

M. Ghirelli

Buckingham

27 November

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