A Protestant Parliament for a Protestant People
A Protestant parliament for a Protestant people is a term that has been applied to the political institutions in Northern Ireland between 1921 and 1972. The term has been documented as early as February 1939, when Bishop Daniel Mageean, in his Lenten pastoral, stated that prime minister, Lord Craigavon had adopted the words as his slogan.
The implication was that Irish Catholics had no political status in the country. Many of them supported the Nationalist Party that chose a policy of abstentionism between 1921 and 1965, resulting in a large majority of Protestant members. They also alleged that local gerrymandering had increased since 1921.
The original similar phrase had been published in the 1934 Northern Irish parliamentary debates (volume 16).
A bitter debate arose in the Parliament of Northern Ireland on 24 April 1934 on the rights of the minority (the minority in Northern Ireland being Nationalist supporters, who were mostly Catholic), itemising how these had generally deteriorated since 1921. Craigavon denied the assertions at length, ending with: "Since we took up office we have tried to be absolutely fair towards all the citizens of Northern Ireland. Actually, on an Orange platform, I, myself, laid down the principle, to which I still adhere, that I was Prime Minister not of one section of the community but of all, and that as far as I possibly could I was going to see that fair play was meted out to all classes and creeds without any favour whatever on my part."
George Leeke then retorted: "What about your Protestant Parliament?", to which Craigavon replied: "The hon. Member must remember that in the South they boasted of a Catholic State. They still boast of Southern Ireland being a Catholic State. All I boast of is that we are a Protestant Parliament and a Protestant State. It would be rather interesting for historians of the future to compare a Catholic State launched in the South with a Protestant State launched in the North and to see which gets on the better and prospers the more. It is most interesting for me at the moment to watch how they are progressing. I am doing my best always to top the bill and to be ahead of the South."
Similar phrases he used were That is my whole object in carrying on a Protestant Government for a Protestant people. The correct phrase was quoted by Jonathan Bardon, and Professor Ronan Fanning, but the common misquotation has been relayed by eminent historians such as Diarmaid Ferriter, Seán Cronin, Patrick Buckland and Mark Tierney, to the extent that A Protestant Parliament for a Protestant People has now become very widely accepted as the actual quotation.
In 1967, the then prime minister, Terence O'Neill also attributed the phrase itself to his predecessor, but strongly argued that it was no longer representative of the present spirit of Ulster Unionism. Newspapers continued to use the term in the 1970s and 1980s, particularly in relation to the former Stormont Parliament.
- The Times,"Dread of Nocturnal Visits " In Ulster 20 February 1939; pg 19; col C
- Vol. 16, page 1095 original text online; downloaded February 2010
- Discrimination - Quotations, CAIN
- Jonathan Bardon, A History of Ulster (Blackstaff, 2005), pp. 538-9.
- R Fanning, Sunday Independent December 2009
- See: Ferriter D. The Transformation of Ireland 1900-2000 London: Profile Press 2004, p.281; ISBN 1-86197-307-1. Buckland P., The Factory of Grievances: Devolved Government in Northern Ireland 1921-1939 New York: Barnes & Noble; Dublin: Gill & MacMillan 1979, p.72 ISBN 0-06-490752-X. Cronin S., Irish Nationalism: A History of its Roots and Ideology New York: Continuum, 1981; p.177 ISBN 0-8264-0062-0. Tierney M., Modern Ireland 1850-1950 Dublin; Gill and Macmillan, 1978; p.230. ISBN 0-7171-0886-4.
- The Times, Ulster's Prime Minister replies to his critics; 28 April 1967; pg 11 col E
- Paradox of political reform at Stormont (News); Hugh Munro; The Times 8 November 1971; pg 12 col F
- Mr Whitelaw denies that Army's hands are tied in military action against Northern Ireland gunmen (News); The Times 12 October 1972; pg 6 col A
- Sectarianism in Ulster (Letters to the Editor) BRIAN W. WALKER,, NORMAN GEAR, The Times 1 June 1973; pg 15 col E
- Unionists cry foul at Stormont football fixture (News), The Times, 4 August 1984; pg 1 col B