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Sunningdale and the Council of Ireland: an Exchange

Hugh Logue writes

Dear Editors
For many years I have enjoyed your journal, not least the erudite contributions of our esteemed ambassadors. Not so, in the current issue 121, April 2020, where I am misquoted and misrepresented by your reviewer, John Swift, in “The Long Road to Peace”. He reviews Inside Accounts: Volume I and Inside Accounts: Volume II by Graham Spencer. Your journal is one of opinion, but it is also regarded as a journal of record. Hence this letter.

He quotes me as saying “The Council of Ireland is the vehicle in which the unionists will be trundled into a United Ireland.” Coercion or what? What was said, in the 1973 speech after the Sunningdale Agreement, was that “The Council of Ireland is the vehicle that will trundle through to deliver a United Ireland. The speed that vehicle moves at depends on the Unionist population.” Consent or what?

In the NI Assembly on December 14th, 1973 the Unionist Assembly member John Laird had the good grace, when the matter was raised, to accept that it was a United Ireland, but by consent of the people of the North of Ireland. (The Official Record, NI Assembly, Vol 1, July 31st to December 19th, 1973). The Irish Times of October 30th, 1997 records same.

SDLP policy in 1973, then as now, was Irish unity by consent. The Irish government policy in 1973, then as now, was Irish unity by consent.

Your reviewer goes further, stating that “opinions of this sort gave powerful ammunition to unionist opponents of Sunningdale and Faulkner”.

I knew Brian Faulkner. He shook my hand on my first day in Stormont in June 1973 to recognise that I, then, was the youngest ever elected member to Stormont, a distinction he said that he once held. Never, in public nor in private, did he indicate that his position or the power-sharing government was undermined by the speech. Rather, Brian Faulkner held the view quoted: “Certainly I was convinced all along that the outcry against the Council of Ireland was only a useful red herring ‑ the real opposition was to sharing of power”, as chronicled by Noel Dorr in his superb book Sunningdale: The Search for Peace In Northern Ireland. Noel Dorr lists at least five cogent reasons for Sunningdale not succeeding, and my speech is not one of them. The misquoted text is not in the book being reviewed but was dragged in by your reviewer. Dorr repeats his reasons in the interview in Inside Accounts Vol I. David Bleakley, in his 1974 contemporaneous biography Faulkner, shared a number of Dorr’s reasons, as does Robert Ramsay, Faulkner’s private secretary, in his account, Ringside Seats, published in 2009.

Seamus Mallon’s marvellous memoir A Shared Home Place is lauded by Mr Swift. It may have escaped him that Mallon in his memoir defends the refusal of a few of us in the SDLP to give way on an Irish Dimension in May 1974 when this was demanded by the British government.

The reviewer is particularly taken by what Mallon called “his Maya Angelou speech” at the Waterfront Hall alongside Clinton, Blair, Ahern and Trimble in September 1998. Seamus, with characteristic generosity, acknowledged who drafted the speech.

Mr Swift admonishes the author of Inside Accounts: Volumes I and II in his review for “inaccuracies” and for being “occasionally clumsy”. Perhaps the reviewer might reflect on his own accuracy.

John Swift responds:

Hugh Logue’s main point is a good one. I should have researched his Trinity College speech more thoroughly and it would have been better to include his view that the speed at which Sunningdale delivers a United Ireland depends on the Unionist population. That said, I was following the one-sentence summary of his position as reported in CAIN (Conflict Archive on the Internet, under “Sunningdale”), IBIS Working Paper No 82, 2007 by PJ McLoughlin, the essay by McGarry and O’Leary in the study “Power Sharing” by McCulloch and McGarry (2017), TP Coogan’s “Ireland in the 20th Century” (2004) and others.

It is a mistake to think that, in my review, I questioned the insistence of the SDLP and of the Irish government that the Council of Ireland must form part of any settlement. And I note that the Trinity College speech took place not in December 1973 as mentioned, but in mid-January, 1974, after 1) the formation of the Ulster Army Council (UAC), after 2) the vote of the Ulster Unionist Council rejecting the Council of Ireland as proposed at Sunningdale (by a vote of 427 to 374 only), and 3) after the resignation of Brian Faulkner.

Mr Logue will have seen that I share his analysis of the early 1970s, that I fully agree with his (and Noel Dorr’s) opinion that extreme loyalism was as much against power-sharing as it was against the Council of Ireland, and that I quote Dorr in detail on the five major reasons why Sunningdale failed. I understand he also agrees with Dorr on these.

See also the exchange between Philip McGarry and John Swift: https://drb.ie/blog/comment/2020/04/22/sf-and-violence-an-exchange