LETTER : A constitutional end to strife over Ireland

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The Independent Online
NEAL Ascherson rightly sings the praises of the neglected Hubert Butler ("The strength of loyalism may crumble into dust", 18 February), but I wonder whether he doesn't draw too narrow a conclusion from Butler's writings?

Butler regarded the partition of Ireland as a disaster because it unbalanced the social forces at work in the nascent southern Irish republic, where he hoped a new civilisation "half-English, half-Gaelic" could be borne. But at a greater distance from the tragic Anglo-Irish conflict of 1920, could we not also make some similar comments about the secession of southern Ireland itself from the United Kingdom.

As your editorial testifies, shorn of southern Irish influence it has taken us another three-quarters of a century to see that a new constitutional settlement of a more republican, inclusive kind is needed. And it is not only the Anglo-Irish aristocracy who abandoned southern Ireland: so many Catholics have emigrated to Britain that more people of southern Irish extraction now live here than in Ireland.

Despite the renewed violence, it may be that the whole British-Irish conflict is on the verge of crumbling, because the very categories out of which it was once fashioned are now so flimsy. If the peoples of these closely neighbouring islands would now look at each other, as Butler enjoins, "without tilt", they would surely agree that they had a great deal in common.

Simon Partridge

London N2