Fighting Abortion: Uniting Ireland’s Catholics and Protestants

News: Commentary
by James Baresel  •  •  October 12, 2019   

Irish nationalists push abortion, LGBT causes

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Recent measures taken to impose abortion and homosexual "marriage" on Northern Ireland have been too well reported over the past few months for the basic facts to be in need of repetition. What such reports tend not to mention are the changes in voter demographics which are resulting from the cultural conflict taking part in that part of the United Kingdom.

Leading the pro-life fight in Northern Ireland is the Democratic Unionist Party, whose leader, Arlene Foster, has in recent weeks emphatically confirmed its opposition to abortion, to attempts by the U.K. Parliament to force abortion on Northern Ireland despite the fact that authority over abortion in the region belongs to the Northern Ireland Assembly and to the pro-abortion position of the Irish nationalist Sinn Féin party — which, as the largest party in Northern Ireland to promote socially liberal positions (including support for the homosexual agenda and for transgender ideology), is beginning to be abandoned by a limited but notable minority.

Less important than the absolute numbers is the impact which Sinn Féin's stance has had on both Northern Ireland's most serious Catholics and on the Democratic Unionist Party, as well as the on the Traditional Unionist Voice which split from the latter in 2007.

Nationalists' claims to protect the religious interests of Catholics against a technically Protestant state became transparently hollow.

Founded in 1971, the Democratic Unionist Party originated as an explicitly anti-Catholic successor to the Protestant Unionist Party at a time when unionism was associated with Protestantism and nationalism with Catholicism.

In fact, however, this association of religion with politics was accidental, grounded in the correlation of religion and ethnicity. Most ethnic Irishmen in the region are Catholics, most Catholics ethnically Irish. Most ethnic Anglo-Irish and Scotch-Irish people in the region (descendants of 17th-century immigrants to the island and overwhelming concentrated in that part of it which remained in the United Kingdom) are Protestants, most Protestants Anglo-Irish or Scotch-Irish.

The mid-to-late-20th-century propaganda of both groups has consistently distorted history, claiming continuity between the wars of the 17th century, movements and rebellions which began the late 18th century and led to the independence of the Republic of Ireland in the 20th century and the "Troubles" which took place in Ireland from 1969 to 1998 (leaving over 3,000 dead and nearly 50,000 injured). In fact, however, each of these three periods saw conflicts over different issues.

The wars which took place from the 1640s to the 1690s were grounded in a three-way conflict between Catholics, High Church Anglicans and Calvinists which permeated the British Isles and was linked to conflict over the relationship between king and Parliament. Battles in Ireland largely pitted Irishmen against Englishmen only because Irishmen tended to be Catholic and Englishmen Protestant.

Irish nationalism, on the other hand, originated in the late 18th century as a secular liberal movement influenced by the French Revolution, which intended to unite all ethnic Irishmen regardless of religion. Its founders were disproportionately Protestant. Following the Irish nationalists' 1798 rebellion, the Catholic bishops of Ireland supported the 1800 Act of Union which fully incorporated Ireland into the United Kingdom, eliminating the island's last elements of semi-independence under a shared monarch.

Irish Catholicism and Irish nationalism remained in conflict throughout the 19th century. The Catholic hierarchy condemned the nationalist Irish Republic Brotherhood because of its revolutionary ideology and support for the use of violence.

Irish nationalists blocked the British Parliament's first effort to grant full legal equality to Catholics because Parliament stipulated (with the acquiescence of the Holy See) that the Church throughout the British Isles be treated as the Church in a single nation (like the Catholic Church in the United States). Irish nationalists wanted the Church in Ireland to be nationally distinct from the Church in England (as the Church in the United States is distinct from the Church in Canada).

During the 1919–1921 Irish War of Independence (really a guerrilla and terrorist campaign), Catholics and Protestants were each found on both sides. Nationalists' willingness to assault and murder unionists was uninfluenced by consideration of their victims' religion.

Even during the Troubles later in the 20th century, Catholics and Protestants within the Republic of Ireland got along perfectly well. The reason for this is that the Protestants of the Republic of Ireland are, like the Protestants who fought for independence from 1919–1921, ethnically Irish rather than Anglo-Irish or Scotch-Irish.

Unionists, long superior to the nationalists on every issue but religion, were suddenly the champions of social conservatism at the very time when their hostility to Catholics was beginning to slacken.

Because of the correlations between religion and ethnicity in Northern Ireland, Anglo-Irish and Scotch-Irish Protestants have a history of hostility both to the ethnic Irish and to Catholics — a hostility often present in the unionist political parties which they dominated.

Secularized Catholic Irishmen could in many ways feel at home on the nationalist side of the political spectrum. But the combination of the leftist secularism of the nationalists and the anti-Catholicism of many unionists left devout Catholics without an appropriate political home, though most saw only the pro-Catholic professions of the nationalists rather than the anti-Catholic implications of their ideology.

Then culture war came to Northern Ireland as the Troubles were ending. Nationalists' claims to protect the religious interests of Catholics against a technically Protestant state became transparently hollow once they were joined to support abortion and homosexual relationships. Unionists, long superior to the nationalists on every issue but religion, were suddenly the champions of social conservatism at the very time when their hostility to Catholics was beginning to slacken.

Since then, devout Catholics have increasingly come to realize that the worst the unionists offer is a combination of laws acceptable to Catholics with an anti-Catholic rhetoric which has no practical implications while the best the nationalists offer is a combination of meaningless pro-Catholic rhetoric with laws that no faithful Catholic can accept.

And devout, ethnically Irish Catholics' willingness to support Northern Ireland's membership in the United Kingdom and to ally with Protestants in order to defend social conservatism has led conservative Anglo-Irish and Scotch-Irish Protestants to becoming increasingly friendly towards Catholics.

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