Flag-waving

Judging by the anodyne results of the Anglo-Irish summit last November, the Government has ignored the suggestions of the Kilbrandon Inquiry's Report on Northern Ireland published just before the premiers met; but historians should not repeat the omission.

The Report contains the findings of an independent investigation into the 'practicality' of constitutional and administrative changes regarding that unhappy province, taking as its point of departure the Report of the New Ireland Forum and the issues thus raised. Like the Forum Report, the Inquiry spent some time analysing historical questions; and like the Report, it attempts at the end to rearrange the historical debris of the Ulster policy. But its emphasis is instructively different.

Several historians, amateur 'and professional, gave evidence to the Dublin Forum; but, though the Forum was a cross-party creation, the result (as drawn up in Chapter Three of its Report) was essentially Fianna Fail history. The 'Origins of the Problem' were strictly related to the Government of Ireland Act of 1920 and the abortive Boundary Commission thereafter. The peculiar traditions of the North, and the organisation of military and political opposition to Home Rule there from the 1880s, were ignored. Now, for that matter, was any attempt made to confront the resolutely sectarian slant of de Valera's Republic. The Kilbrandon Inquiry similarly involved historians – not only among those who submitted evidence, but also among those who drew up its report. (One might also add in political scientists, who in the Irish context have to be historians ex officio.) Their findings unequivocally describe the Forum view of Irish history as 'very one-sided' (like the Forum itself, through no necessary fault of its own). And the Inquiry's conclusion about the historical content of the current problem is more trenchant and realistic than anything the Forum has to say on the subject:

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