Repartition of Ireland

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

A map showing the current Irish border

The repartition of Ireland has been suggested as a possible solution to the conflict in Northern Ireland. In 1922 Ireland was partitioned on county lines, and left Northern Ireland with a mixture of both unionists, who wish to remain in the United Kingdom, and nationalists, who wish to join a United Ireland. As the two communities are somewhat regionalised, redrawing the border to better divide the two groups was considered at various points throughout the 20th century.

Political geography[edit]

As the border currently stands, Northern Ireland contains a slight Catholic — generally correlative with Irish nationalist — plurality,[1] mostly in the south and west, but with significant numbers in Belfast and other communities concentrated particularly in the Glens of Antrim and around the shores of Lough Neagh. Protestants — correlative with Unionists — make up the 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.


Irish Boundary Commission (1920s)[edit]

Border changes as proposed by the Irish Boundary Commission, 1925

A de facto border was established by the Government of Ireland Act 1920, in which the British Government established (or attempted to establish) two devolved administrations within the United Kingdom, Northern Ireland and Southern Ireland. The former consisted of north-easterly six of the nine counties of Ulster; the latter of the remaining 26 (including three of Ulster). In 1925, the Irish Boundary Commission was established to consider whether a more appropriate border might be drawn. On 7 November 1925 an English Conservative newspaper, The Morning Post, published leaked notes of the negotiations, including a draft map. The overall effects of the Boundary Commission's recommendations would have been the transfer of 286 square miles to the Free State and 77 square miles to Northern Ireland.[2] The leaked report included, accurately, the Boundary Commission recommendation that parts of east County Donegal would be transferred to Northern Ireland, plus several other small tracts (see list here). Only 1 in every 25 Northern Irish Catholics would have been placed under Free State rule.[2] The Boundary Commission's recommendations would have shortened the border by 51 miles (approx. 18%).[2] The press leak effectively ended the commission's work.[3][4] 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.[5] This new agreement was approved by the Dáil (the lower house of the Free State parliament) by a vote of 71 to 20,[6] and in Westminster by the "Ireland (Confirmation of Agreement) Act" that was passed unanimously by the British parliament on 8–9 December.[7][8] The Agreement was then formally registered with the League of Nations on 8 February 1926.

The 1937 Constitution of Ireland described the whole island of Ireland as the "National Territory", but this claim was dropped by the Nineteenth Amendment that permitted the Irish government to ratify the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.

Conservative party proposals (1970s)[edit]

Repartition resurfaced as a possible 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. In the mid-1970s Northern Ireland Secretary Merlyn Rees considered the possibility of ceding the IRA stronghold of South Armagh to the Republic, deciding against the matter as the Dublin authorities would likewise be unable to stop IRA activity in the area.[9]

In 2003 secret plans were published for the first time, revealing that in 1972 civil servants in London had prepared a "last-ditch" plan 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.[10] 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".[11][12]

In late 1974 and early 1975, the Irish government believed a British withdrawal was being contemplated, and feared that this would lead to a full civil war in the north.[13] Conservative MP David James pressed Prime Minister Harold Wilson to approach the Republic to see if they would be willing to swap South Armagh for areas of northern County Monaghan; Wilson was apparently keen on the idea, but thought that the government in Dublin would be unenthusiastic.[14] Wilson supported granting independence to Northern Ireland as a Commonwealth dominion until it was rejected by the cabinet in November 1975.[15]

Thatcher's repartition paper (1984)[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%.[16]

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.[17] The plans were quickly dismissed as impractical and politically unworkable.[17] Later in 1984, then-Taoisaeach Garret FitzGerald spoke against repartition as reinforcing partition.[17]

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

UDA proposal (1994)[edit]

During the late 1980s and early 1990s, 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 or even genocide, with the goal of making Northern Ireland wholly Protestant.[18] 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".[18] The story was printed in the Sunday Independent newspaper on 16 January.[19] The "doomsday plan" was based on the work of Liam Kennedy, though he had not proposed expulsion.[18] 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".[18]

Later use of the term[edit]

In the years following the Good Friday agreement the border was softened by the removal of military checkpoints which had been in place during the Troubles. In the wake of the UK decision to leave the European Union in 2016, the role and nature of the border came into question once again. The term "repartition" is now however used in the context of a theoretical return to a hard border between the two states, rather than a fresh division of Northern Ireland.[20][21] A hard border was ultimately avoided due to the implementation of the Northern Ireland Protocol in 2021.[22]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Lauren Harte (22 September 2022). "Northern Ireland Census 2021 results: Population more diverse than ever before". BelfastLive.
  2. ^ a b c 'The Irish Border: History, Politics, Culture' By Malcolm Anderson, Eberhard Bort, pg. 96
  3. ^ "Irish cabinet notes, 10 Nov 1925". 10 November 1925. Retrieved 4 April 2011.
  4. ^ Paul Bew "Ireland: The Politics of Enmity, 1789–2006" (Oxford University Press, 2007) p.447. ISBN 0-19-820555-4
  5. ^ Dáil Éireann – Volume 13 – 7 December 1925: TREATY (CONFIRMATION OF AMENDING AGREEMENT) BILL, 1925. Archived 7 June 2011 at the Wayback Machine Line 1300
  6. ^ 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
  7. ^ "Ireland Confirmation of Agreement Bill (1925)". Parliamentary Debates (Hansard). House of Commons. 8 December 1925. Retrieved 4 April 2011.
  8. ^ "Ireland Confirmation of Agreement Bill (1925)". Parliamentary Debates (Hansard). House of Lords. 9 December 1925. Retrieved 4 April 2011.
  9. ^ Harnden, Toby. Bandit Country: the IRA and South Armagh, pg. 148-49.
  10. ^ Philip Johnston (1 January 2003). "Secret plan for the new partition of Ireland". The Daily Telegraph. London. Retrieved 12 August 2020.
  11. ^ "Down Democrat: An unrecognisable map of home". Archived from the original on 30 September 2003. Retrieved 14 July 2011.
  12. ^ "An Phoblacht: Britain Considered Repartition". Retrieved 14 July 2011.
  13. ^ "Garret FitzGerald's 2006 essay" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 26 September 2007. Retrieved 14 July 2011.
  14. ^ Harnden, Toby. Bandit Country: the IRA and South Armagh, pg. 149.
  15. ^ "Garret FitzGerald's 2006 essay" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 26 September 2007. Retrieved 14 July 2011.
  16. ^ John Whyte, Interpreting Northern Ireland (Clarendon Press, 1996), p. 82.
  17. ^ a b c Laurac, Emile (3 January 2014). "UK officials considered 'walled ghetto' for Catholics". Irish Independent. Retrieved 3 January 2014.
  18. ^ a b c d Wood, Ian S. Crimes of Loyalty: A History of the UDA. Edinburgh University Press, 2006. Pages 184–185.
  19. ^ "CAIN". Retrieved 14 July 2011.
  20. ^ "To Unlock Brexit Talks, Britain Must Atone for a Sin of Empire: The Partition of Ireland". 24 October 2018.
  21. ^ "Why hard Brexit would be like the repartition of Ireland (And we all know how that worked out)". Belfast Telegraph.
  22. ^ "The Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland explained".

External links[edit]