Repartition of Ireland

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The repartition of Ireland has been suggested as a possible solution to the conflict in Northern Ireland.

The 1922 partition of Ireland left Northern Ireland with a large Irish nationalist minority, mostly in the south and west, but with significant numbers in Belfast and some smaller communities in the north and east, whilst Irish unionists constitute a majority of the population in the north and east, with some smaller communities in the south and west. The geographical area in which unionists are a majority is less than half of Northern Ireland, but eastern areas have a much higher population density. Northern Ireland is divided, with unionists comprising approximately 48% of the population, and falling quickly. Unionists secured 11 of the 18 seats at the last general election in 2017, but, for the first time, just under 50% of the vote.[1] None of the proposals for repartition are currently supported by any political party in Ireland.[2]

A map showing the current Irish border

1920 to 1969[edit]

The idea was first mooted at the time the border was drawn up. Some Irish republicans, including Cahir Healy, while objecting to the partition in principle, argued in particular that County Fermanagh and County Tyrone should not be included in what became Northern Ireland, as they had a majority nationalist population.[citation needed] John Redmond also indicated that he would be prepared to accept this option.[citation needed]

The Boundary Commission fixed the current border in 1925, although the Irish Free State delegate (Professor Eoin MacNeill) had resigned in protest at its failure to respect the terms of the Treaty.[3] Its decision was not published. The three governments, however, determined another agreement on 6 December 1925 (subject to parliamentary approval) which confirmed the existing boundary of Northern Ireland, along with other matters.[4] This new agreement was approved by the Dáil (the lower house of the Free State parliament) by a vote of 71 to 20.[5]

The 1937 Constitution of Ireland described the whole island of Ireland as the "National Territory", but this irredentist claim was dropped by the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. From then on, border changes must be approved by plebiscites in both jurisdictions.

1969 to 1980[edit]

To the left is a map showing the religious divisions in Ireland in 1991 (based on the census of both states, the United Kingdom and the Census#Republic of Ireland). Areas in which the majority of the population was Protestant/unionist/loyalist are shown in green, whilst areas in which the majority of the population was Catholic/nationalist/republican are shown in blue. To the right is an image of a proposed settlement of a repartitioned island. Many areas of Northern Ireland would have been ceded to the RoI. Those areas which would remain part of Northern Ireland (and thus stay in the UK) are shown in green, while those areas which would have formed the enlarged Republic are shown in blue. Red lines denote county boundaries.

Repartition resurfaced as an option with the start of the Troubles. In 1972, the Conservative MP Julian Critchley published a pamphlet for the Bow Group advocating repartition, titled Ireland: A New Partition. Civil servants in London prepared a "last-ditch" plan in 1974, for possible use in the event of a full-scale civil war, which would have seen Roman Catholic inhabitants of the northeast forcibly moved to Fermanagh, southern Londonderry, Tyrone, South Armagh and South Down. Protestant inhabitants of those areas would have been moved into North Down, Antrim, Northern Londonderry and North Armagh. The nationalist areas would then have been ceded to the Republic of Ireland. An alternative plan simply involved "moving individual Catholics from their homes in Northern Ireland to new homes in the Republic". The plan was kept secret at the time and was revealed in 2002.[6][7] In a 2006 essay, Garret FitzGerald, the Republic's Foreign Minister in 1974, revealed his government's opinions on repartition or a complete British withdrawal.[8]

1980 to 1998[edit]

Pollsters have rarely asked the population of Northern Ireland about their attitudes to repartition but it was asked twice in the early 1980s. In June 1981 and February 1982, the percentages of Protestants agreeing to repartition was 9% and 8%; the percentages for Catholics were 22% and 24%.[9]

Research by Paul Compton of Queen's University of Belfast (QUB) fed into a secret 1984 briefing paper prepared by the Northern Ireland Office for then-Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, which examined various repartition schemes, the most extensive transferring to the Republic half of Northern Ireland's territory and one-third of its population, with West Belfast a "walled ghetto" enclave.[10] The plans were quickly dismissed as impractical and politically unworkable.[10] Later in 1984, then-Taoisaeach Garret FitzGerald spoke against repartition as reinforcing partition.[10]

In 1986, QUB economic historian Liam Kennedy published a book-length study of repartition called Two Ulsters: A Case for Repartition.

During the late 1980s, repartition was repeatedly proposed by assorted individuals and small groups. It became popular in some sections of the Ulster nationalist movement, who were keen to establish a state with a large Protestant majority. Conversely, the Ulster Movement for Self-Determination proposed an enlarged state of Ulster, including all the historic province. This state, were it to have been created, would have had almost equal numbers of nationalists and unionists.

In early January 1994, the Ulster Defence Association (UDA) released a document calling for repartition combined with ethnic cleansing, with the goal of making Northern Ireland wholly Protestant.[11] The plan was to be implemented should the British Army withdraw from Northern Ireland. The vastly Irish Catholic and nationalist areas would be handed over to the Republic, and those left stranded in the "Protestant state" would be "expelled, nullified, or interned".[11] The story was printed in the Sunday Independent newspaper on 16 January.[12] The "doomsday plan" was based on the work of Liam Kennedy, though he had not proposed ethnic cleansing.[11] Sammy Wilson, then press officer for the Democratic Unionist Party and later the MP for East Antrim, spoke positively of the document, calling it a "valuable return to reality" and lauded the UDA for "contemplating what needs to be done to maintain our separate Ulster identity".[11]

Margaret Thatcher said in 1998 that when it became obvious that the Anglo-Irish Agreement was in trouble, she too had considered repartition, although she had not pursued the idea.[13]


  1. ^ Elections in Northern Ireland
  2. ^ "CAIN: An Outline of the Main Political 'Solutions' to the Conflict". Retrieved 14 July 2011.
  3. ^ Dáil Éireann - Volume 13 - 24 November 1925: THE BOUNDARY COMMISSION Archived 9 June 2011 at the Wayback Machine Historical debates of Dáil Éireann, November 1925
  4. ^ Dáil Éireann - Volume 13 - 7 December 1925: TREATY (CONFIRMATION OF AMENDING AGREEMENT) BILL, 1925. Archived 7 June 2011 at the Wayback Machine Line 1300
  5. ^ Dáil Éireann - Volume 13 - 10 December 1925: PRIVATE BUSINESS. - TREATY (CONFIRMATION OF AMENDING AGREEMENT) BILL, 1925—SECOND STAGE (Resumed). Archived 7 June 2011 at the Wayback Machine Line 1769
  6. ^ "Down Democrat: An unrecognisable map of home". Archived from the original on 30 September 2003. Retrieved 14 July 2011.
  7. ^ "An Phoblacht: Britain Considered Repartition". Retrieved 14 July 2011.
  8. ^ "Garret FitzGerald's 2006 essay" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 26 September 2007. Retrieved 14 July 2011.
  9. ^ John Whyte, Interpreting Northern Ireland (Clarendon Press, 1996), p. 82.
  10. ^ a b c Laurac, Emile (3 January 2014). "UK officials considered 'walled ghetto' for Catholics". Irish Independent. Retrieved 3 January 2014.
  11. ^ a b c d Wood, Ian S. Crimes of Loyalty: A History of the UDA. Edinburgh University Press, 2006. Pages 184–185.
  12. ^ "CAIN". Retrieved 14 July 2011.
  13. ^ "An Phoblacht: Partition Once Again?". 29 October 1998. Retrieved 14 July 2011.

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