This table is significant because it shows that Catholics occupy only five out of the 44 possible seats available.  The Protestants thus effectively controlled the Judicial/Legislative process (i.e. "Courts make laws!").  Furthermore, this is important because it enables the following two implications to be drawn.  First, the Judiciary was able to legitimize and enforce laws, such as the Special Powers Act of 1922, without opposition.

This gave:

[T]he government the right to intern people without trial (which it did between 1922 and 1925, between 1938 and 1946, and between 1956 and 1961), to arrest people without warrant, to issue curfews, and to prohibit inquests­a power which tacitly prevented the investigation of illegal killings by the security forces.26

Thus, the Catholics once again became subordinant to the will of a Protestant majority, much like they had been under the Penal Legislation of 1695 to 1709. Furthermore, Catholics had no means of seeking redress against illegal arrests, inquests, or unjust killings.  Second, "these arrangements further reduced the prospects that the law might protect the civil liberties of the minority."27  Hence, Mill's and Tocqueville's prediction that the "tyranny of the majority" can co-exist with democratic rule was censured.   The question now becomes: Was the system of governance in Northern Ireland really democratic?  And if so, how did government go wrong?  Initially, the Stormont Parliament was constructed to provide the people of the North with a means of representing themselves, based on the British system of Parliamentary governance.  This system included the democratic requirements of an opposition party, the Nationalist party, which consisted of a disenfranchised Catholic minority.  The problem the Catholics faced however, was that the Unionist, or Protestant, party did not need the aid of the Catholic minority to form a majority in government.  This was because the Unionists did not gain any political advantage by consulting with the Catholics; therefore, they did not.   The resulting "Cult of Parliamentary Sovereignty"28 consequently became the acceptable legal practice under the Stormont Parliament because:

Under the majoritarian rules inherited from across the water, the Unionists could form one-party governments with no Catholic representation whatever and they were free of the constraints of a competitive party system and of a bill of rights or any other strong legal protection for the minority.29


Thus, it is clear that Protestant dominance in the political arena has stifled those Catholic aspirations for proportional representation that would enable them to confront the Protestants as equals.   Currently, "direct rule continues under the Northern Ireland Act of 1974, which is annually renewed, as is the 1974 Prevention of Terrorism Act."30   This took the power away from both the Protestants and Catholics and vested it in Britain's Parliament in London.  As of late, the Blair government is considering the possibilities of devolving London's authority to a new and fully restored Parliament in Northern Ireland.

Mechanisms and Motivation for Protestant Dominance

Protestants prevented Catholics from gaining political power by using six discriminatory mechanisms: 1) a switch from proportional representation to plurality rule; 2) the subsequent use of gerrymandering; 3) the "Cult of Parliamentary Sovereignty" over the legislative process; 4) the requirement of an Oath of Allegiance to the Crown; 5) canvassing, and finally; 6) clientilist relations. Protestant discrimination in the political process was used to maintain the Protestant's dominant political position because they view making "concessions to their opponents as a form of communal suicide."31

The first discriminatory mechanism was the shift from proportional representation to the "conventional British plurality rule" in 1922, two years after the creation of the Stormont Parliament.  This enabled "Unionists to reduce the number of local councils held by nationalists (25 out of nearly 80 in 1920)."32

The second discriminatory mechanism was the gerrymandering of constituency boundaries.   This remained a constant feature of Northern Ireland's local government for 50 years.  The combination of plurality-rule and gerrymandering resulted in diminished Catholic representation in the 1924 local elections, when "nationalists were reduced to holding two councils."33 However, it is necessary to note that "the results of the changed election system and 'Leeching'" (Northern Ireland's word for gerrymandering)34 "were compounded by nationalist boycotts and abstentionism.  (When boycotting was abandoned, nationalists won 10 to 11 councils out of 73)."35  An additonal note is that Catholics boycotted the Stormont Parliament since its first meeting in 1921.  They did this to prevent the official acceptance of the partition of Ireland and to withhold conferring legitimacy to the government of the North.

The third discriminatory mechanism Unionists used was to impede the legislative process. Unionist minis

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Charles Shivers - Northern Ireland - National Identity ... [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7] [8]