Chris Gray

Ulster: how the police state started

(SW, 21 August 1969)


Religion an Orange smokescreen

The Orange Order was founded in 1795 out of the struggles of the Protestant peasantry of Ulster, organised in the Peep O’Day Boys, against their Catholic rivals, the Defenders. In 1798 Orangemen throughout Ireland fought against the revolutionary democracy, the United Irishmen, for the maintenance of the connection with Britain and against “Catholic Emancipation” in any shape or form.

Followin the defeat of Emmet the movement expanded into areas, such as South Co. Derry where the Protestant peasants had given their support to the United Irishmen.

The Rev. S.E. Long has this to say about the early history of the movement in Orangeism, a new historical appreciation, published in 1967. “The Orange Order, founded in 1795, had been very much a labouring and poorer artisan class movement. It had not gained the support, in size, of the gentry, the clergy, the business and professional men and the farmers until the pressure of a Bill, popularly understood to be aimed at giving the country to a Dublin government and the control of the Roman Catholic Church, was mooted. This made Protestant people of Unionist loyalties turn to the Order as a likely instrument for maintaining the British connection and preserving the Protestant religion. There was a huge fear because the terms of the Bill appeared to give power to the proposed Irish parliament to grant money to religious bodies and for the erection of chapels.”

Long is right to seize on Gladstone’s Home Rule Bill (1885) as the turning point in the fortunes of the Order. Where he goes way off beam is in pin-pointing the “defence of the Protestant religion” as the motive behind the rush to the colours of squire, honest burgher and yeoman. Class interests here find their. expression in the rhetoric of religion.

The key to the conversion of the ruling-class alliance is to be found in the growth of industry in north-east Ulster around Belfast – the only part of Ireland to experience a classic 19th century industrial revolution.


Key question

The industrial complex which arose in the Lagan valley and its environs was an integral part of the British imperial market system, its credit governed by the, city of London and its raw materials drawn from thy same sources as the rest of British capitalism.

The key question for this “Orange capitalism” – the main element in the coalition despite the political supremacy of the landlord class – was tariffs. If Parnell had his way and Ireland was to have self-government, then in order to develop an indigenous “Green” capitalism in the south, tariffs would have been necessary to defend the infant industries.

British imperialism would no doubt have imposed counter-tariffs (as in the 1930s) to compensate for loss of the southern Irish market, thus cutting across the commercial relations of Belfast and the United Kingdom and confining the Orange masters to the minuscule Irish market, whereas before they had been at liberty to sell to the four corners of the imperial globe.

This made no sort of economic sense to the Orange masters, and they resolved to fight Home Rule tooth and nail. They had the good fortune to find powerful English allies, mostly Tories but with a sprinkling of so-called “Liberal Unionists”.

Prominent among the latter was Joseph Chamberlain, who first proposed partition as a solution to the Irish problem. Of the former the great inspirer was Lord Randolph Churchill, whose comments on the Home Rule proposals show the English ruling class up to its usual “divide and rule” trickery: “I realised that if the GOM, Gladstone, went for Home Rule, then the Orange card would be the one to play.” And he declared, “Ulster will fight and Ulster will be right.”

The idea caught on. While Unionist politicians were explaining how “the inadequacies of Roman Catholic politicians would impoverish the country” (Long) one Fred Crawford, later to become famous as the organiser of the Lame gun-running, founded in 1892. a secret society called Young Ulster.

A condition of membership was the possession of one of three weapons: a Martini rifle, a USA cavalry (word missing in text] or a .455 revolver, and whichever weapon the candidate possessed, he must also have one hundred rounds of ammunition. (Crawford, Guns for Ulster)

The Unionists would, of course, have preferred it if the whole idea of Home Rule had been buried for good and all, but because of the strength of the nationalist Irish Party and the readiness of the Liberals to concede its demands, they were not able to stave off the Third Home Rule Bill, which finally passed into law in September 1914 [sic].



German arms

Prime Minister Asquith had offered to exclude Ulster (the full nine counties) from the operation of the Act for six years. Sir Edward Carson, now the chief spokesman of Irish Unionism refused.

Prior to this the Ulster Covenant had been signed in Belfast in 1912 – Crawford signed in his own blood – and army officers at the Curragh, had declared their unwillingness to fight Orangemen. The Ulster Volunteer Force and Crawford had secured a large quantity of German arms which were put ashore at Larne.

By the summer of 1914 all seemed set for a successful counter-revolution, but this was interrupted by the “Great War”.

When the participants resumed their activities in 1919 it became clear that Sinn Fein, the new party of Irish nationalism, was sweeping the country and it was not long before armed struggle broke out in the south.

The Six County regime arose out of the heat of these struggles. As a result of a promise made by Lloyd George to Sir James Craig, later Northern Ireland premier, the Government of Ireland Act(1920 ) came into force, partitioning the country along present lines.

The Stormont parliament was born. The IRA began operations in the Six County area. “Attacks by the IRA were repelled by the Ulster loyalists who had as their defenders the Special Constabulary, which had come directly out of the Ulster Volunteer Force, a kind of reformed UVF (1920)” (Long).

The Black and Tans were not needed in Ulster: instead the job was done by the A, B and C Specials, of which we now have: only the Bs. The Specials were recruited from and drilled in, among other places, Orange factories.

The “enemy within” was not just the IRA. There was also a hostile Catholic population, plus potentially sympathetic labour people and trade unionists, who could: aid the gunmen and had to be terrorised in the way.

The pogroms began in 1920. “On July 21 prominent Unionists addressed the Protestant workers in the Belfast shipyards, who were in a majority of six to one. The speakers called for a show of revolvers ... to drive the ‘Fenians’ out,” writes Miss Dorothy MacArdle in her book The Irish Republic.

The revolvers were produced – the UVF had done its work well. “During the nights and days that followed armed Orangemen carried the attack into the Catholic quarters of the city. Bombs and petrol, rifles and revolvers were used. Catholics were driven out of their shops and houses, which were looted, then bombed or drenched with petrol and fired.

Convents, churches and Catholic hostels were special objects of attack. The pogrom was imitated in Banbridge and other towns. (MacArdle)

This counter-revolutionary violence was backed up by the introduction of the Special Powers Act (1922), which made conduct of any kind objected to by the authorities illegal, besides suspending habeas corpus and the more usual British legal safeguards against the police.

Similarly the, system of proportional representation introduced by ?he British government in the 1920 Act was changed, for local election purposes, to the “straight vote” system, local electoral boundaries were systematically gerrymandered to ensure Unionist control in Catholic areas like Derry.


Ignored wishes

The whole settlement was imposed on the south by Lloyd George and company at gunpoint in 1921-22, and confirmed by the notorious Boundary Commission of 1925, where the British and Orange representatives reported in favour of disregarding the wishes of nationalist majorities in Tyrone and Fermanagh, otherwise the new statelet would not have had a sufficient agricultural hinterland.

Such was the birth of The repressive Six County state apparatus. Such were the measures necessary in order to ensure the very existence of the Orange capitalist enclave.

But times change and we change with them. North-East Ulster democracy is awakening also and we long for and will see in Belfast movements of labour as great as, if not greater than any of which Dublin can boast.

In that glorious day Ulster will fight and Ulster will be right, but all those leaders who now trumpet forth that battle cry will then be found arrayed against the Ulster democracy. (James Connolly, Forward, 7 June 1913)


Last updated on 7.3.2002