January 14, 2016

‘The Northern Catholic I’ - John Hume in The Irish Times (May 18 1964)


In May 1964, a 27 year old teacher called John Hume wrote two articles for the Irish Times. (The origin of former SDLP leader John Hume’s "single transferable speech" was traced to his days as a schoolteacher in Derry in a 1985 document released under the 30-year rule.) The pieces were commissioned after Michael Viney, then reporter for the Irish Times who had been sent to Northern Ireland by the editor Douglas Gageby to file a series of reports entitled ‘Journey North’, met Hume, and recommended him to Gageby. Read Hume’s first article in full here, May 18 1964:
"Michael Viney’s “Journey North” has spotlighted among other things the great political frustration that exists among the Catholic community there. It is hardly the great united complaining force that the Northern correspondents of the Dublin newspapers mirror it to be. The crux of the matter for the younger generation is the continued existence particularly among the Catholic community, of great social problems of housing, unemployment and emigration. It is the struggle for priority in their minds between such problems and the ideal of an United Ireland with which they have been bred that has produced the frustration and the large number of political wanderers that Michael Viney met on his tour. It may be that the present generation of younger Catholics in the North are more materialistic than their fathers but there is little doubt that their thinking is principally geared towards the solution of social and economic problems. This has led to a deep questioning of traditional attitudes.
Rights and Duties     
It must be said at once that the blame for the situation which prevails must lie principally at the door of the Unionist Government. But the present Nationalist political party must bear a share of it.     
Good government depends as much on the opposition as on the party in power. Weak opposition leads to corrupt government. Nationalists in opposition have been in no way constructive. They have – quite rightly – been loud in their demands for rights, but they have remained silent and inactive about their duties. In forty years of opposition they have not produced one constructive contribution on either the social or economics plane to the development of Northern Ireland which is, after all, a substantial part of the United Ireland for which they strive. Leadership has been the comfortable leadership of flags and slogans. Easy no doubt but irresponsible. There has been no attempt to be positive to encourage the Catholic community to develop the resources which they have in plenty to make a positive contribution in terms of community service. Unemployment and emigration, chiefly of Catholics, remain heavy, much of it no doubt due to the skilful placing of industry by the Northern Government, but the only constructive suggestion from the Nationalist side would appear to be that a removal of discrimination will be the panacea for all our ills. It is this lack of positive contribution and the apparent lack of interest in the general welfare of Northern Ireland that has led many Protestants to believe that the Northern Catholic is politically irresponsible and immature and therefore unfit to rule.     
Bigotry and a fixation about religious divisions are the first thing that strike any visitor to the North. The Nationalist line of the past forty years has made its contribution to this situation. Catholics of all shades of political thought are expected to band together under the unconstructive banner of Nationalism. This dangerous equation of Nationalism and Catholicism has simply contributed to the postponement of the emergence of normal politics in the area and has made the task of the Unionist Ascendancy simpler. Worse, it has poisoned the Catholic social climate to the extent that it has become extremely difficult for a Catholic to express publicly any point of view which does not coincide with the narrow Nationalist line. Disagreement with, or criticism of the Nationalist approach – or lack of it – inevitably brings down upon one’s head a torrent of abuse. “Obsequious”, “Crawling”, “Castle Catholic”, “West Briton” are samples of the terms used.     
The result has been that many Catholics have been unwilling to speak their minds for fear of recrimination. The Nationalist press are the chief perpetrators of this situation. Witness the bitterness of their attacks on people like Messrs. Campbell, McGuigan and Newe. When one adds this climatic censorship to a similar one on the Unionist side one becomes clearly aware of how little freedom of thought or expression exists in Northern Ireland and of the tremendous obstacles in the way of the emergence of a third force. One of the greatest contributions therefore that the Catholic and Northern Ireland can make to a liberalizing of the political atmosphere would be the removal of the equation between Nationalists and Catholics. Apart from being factual, it ought also to be made fashionable that the Catholic Church does not impose upon its members any one form of political belief. In recent times, some Church leaders, realizing the danger to religion in the religio-political equations have been pointing this out.       
Another positive step towards easing community tensions and towards removing what bigotry exists among Catholics would be to recognize that the Protestant tradition in the North is as strong and as legitimate as our own. Such recognition is our first step towards better relations. We must be prepared to accept this and to realize that the fact that a man wishes Northern Ireland to remain part of the United Kingdom does not necessarily make him a bigot or a discriminator. Which leads me to the constitutional question. 
The Constitution     
Apart from providing the Unionist Party with valuable ammunition in the emotional times of an election, their attitude to the Constitutional position has lost the Nationalist Party the sympathy of liberal Protestants and has prevented themselves and their followers from playing a fuller part in the development the Northern Community. What’s more it has too often been an excuse for inactivity. Their present attitude to the question has been vague. While they will on the one hand attend at the unrecognized Parliament of Stormont and accept a salary for so doing they will refuse to be present at a function in Derry City held to bestow civic honour on an industrialist who had given substantial employment to their fellow Catholics.     
The position should be immediately clarified by an acceptance of the Constitutional position. There is nothing inconsistent with such acceptance and a belief that a thirty-two county republic is best for Ireland. In fact if we are to pursue a policy of non-recognition the only logical policy is that of Sinn Fein. If one wishes to create a United Ireland by constitutional means, then one must accept the constitutional position. 
Change by Evolution     
Such a change would remove what has been a great stumbling block to the development of normal politics in the North. Catholics could then throw themselves fully into the solution of Northern problems without fear of recrimination. Such an attitude too, admits the realistic fact that a United Ireland, if it is to come, and if violence rightly, is to be discounted, must come about by evolution, i.e. by the will of the Northern majority. It is clear also that this is the only way in which a truly United Ireland (with the Northern Protestant integrated) can be achieved. Who can conceive a prosperous North attached to either London or Dublin without the Northern Protestant? If the whole Northern community gets seriously to work on its problems, the Unionists bogeys about Catholics and a Republic will, through better understanding, disappear. It will, of course, take a long-time.       
On the party political front, the need for a complete revitalization of the Nationalist party has long been felt. The head without a body type of party in existence up to the present would have been bound to have led to future political immaturity among Catholics. The necessity for a fully organized democratic party which can freely attract and draw upon the talents of the nationally-minded community is obvious. It is to be hoped that the new Nationalist Political Front will create such an organization so that we shall never in future be embarrassed by one of our political representatives declaring on television that he was not an encyclopedia when asked to produce figures to substantiate his charges of discrimination.’
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