Anti-Catholicism In Northern Ireland 1600-1998
The mote and the beam
By John D. Brewer with Gareth I. Higgins
Queen's University Sociology Professor John Brewer talks to Ned
Kelly about his book on anti-Catholicism in the Six Counties.
Professor Brewer explained his central premise: ``anti-Catholicism
has been used to divide groups. It acts as a marker in group
competition, to protect Protestant access to resources and to
close off Catholic access.''
Brewer, himself a Presbyterian, claims such anti-Catholicism has
existed in many forms in many different countries throughout
``In Britain in the 16th and 17th century, it was wrapped up in
debates about absolutism, the political nature of the world and
the role of the state.
``The British state became secure by the 19th century and the role
of anti-Catholicism in securing it was replaced by an anti-Irish
sentiment. This was used to protect access to resources (for
example, jobs) for the English working class versus Irish
Such prejudice surfaces again and again in British culture as
racism is enacted against people from all of Britain's former
Professor Brewer sees anti-Catholicism being used to consolidate
the power of the British state and subsequently to acquire
privileged access to resources for specific groups.
``The anti-Catholic project has continued here because the
structural cleavage of society has not changed since the
``These lines of cleavage have remained the same and adhered to
theology and not developed. In other places, social cleavage
around class or ethnicity have weakened the anti-Catholic divide.
``What is important is to decommission the Protestant mindset, it
is a mindset that kills. It is the mindset of communal conflict
and the loyalist murder gangs. From the earliest sectarian riots
last century to the murder of Bernadette Martin this mindset has
Brewer claims that the role of Orangeism is fundamental to the
``Orangeism in the North represents a clever class alliance
between the Protestant working class and wealthy land owning and
industrialist Protestants. It was important in the development of
Unionism here, it is fed by Orangeism, itself fed by
``On the occasions when a common class response seemed likely,
during the 1907 dock workers strike or the 1930's poor law riots,
the Orange card was played to draw on aggressive
This anti-Catholicism is used, in part, to divide the working
class in such a way as to fracture society.''
The book looks at how anti-Catholicism is used to socially mark
boundaries and protect privileged access. Whether the biblical
claims are true or not, anti-Catholicism has dominated the
Brewer uses a system he calls the ``four Ds: Distortion;
Distancing; Denial; and Deletion''.
``Ian Paisley frequently claims that the IRA are a Catholic
organisation, he deletes from his consciousness the numerous
statements to the contrary. Or the common denial that under
Stormont there was no discrimination.''
Turning to the powerful language of anti-Catholicism, Brewer
says: During the research for his book Brewer spoke to Pastor
Kenny McClinton, Gary McMichael and David Ervine to get an
insight into the current mindset of Unionism.
He related an Ervine quote, `sectarianism is like warm piss down
your trouser leg, it instantly gives you a warm glow but quickly
Brewer says, ``the cross-class alliance gives force as the social
glue in Orangeism'' and perhaps hopefully, claims Unionists like
Ervine, ``recognise that they have been used as cannon fodder and
that they don't really get much out of the alliance.''
For Brewer, challenging the anti-Catholic and by extension
anti-Nationalist and Republican mindset is crucial to creating
But he admits, ``it is ingrained and inbred. It is what I call
part of the holy remnant. The Free Presbyterians and Billy
Wrights of this world see the present as nothing more than a
representation of the past.
``The present represents the internal conflict between
truth/falsity and good/evil, it is the same universal conflicts
of the past and the same choices must be made now. They are
secure in the past and it has a tremendous political and
ideological hold on them.
``What everyone else sees as negative, looking to the past, these
people have no problem with, they are happy to go backwards.
``These `grand narratives' have not changed in Ireland for four
centuries as it they have changed elsewhere because of the
continuity of religion that straddles the other cleavages in
Brewer describes himself as an ecumenical Christian driven by the
need to ``name the beast'' that has led to the systematic attack on
and attempted destruction of the Catholic people by Protestantism
in the Six-Counties.
``There is something broader, it's not just negative language, it
is the mechanism used to draw boundaries and allocate resources
unequally. The Protestant community needs to challenge its own
prejudices,'' he says.
Referring to the sub-title of his book Brewer said, ``you must
first get the beam out of your own eye before you can criticise
the speck of dust in others.''
Focusing on the theological aspect of anti-Catholicism, Brewer
says the ambiguous nature of the new and old testament is used to
``Where McClinton might say love your neighbour, he restricts this
to those who adhere to his understanding of the blessed land, and
are fellow citizens of his state fulfilling the obligations of
the citizen, that is, not Nationalists.''
With a great focus on Abraham with its smiting, destruction and
loyalty of those who take God's blessed land, Brewer claims many
have found such ideology very attractive as a justification for
the crimes against humanity they have committed.
``Anti-Catholicism is about identity and territory, marching is a
prime example. It is only about placing the stamp on Nationalist
areas, about who owns that space. Religion is standing for other
conflicts in the way they no longer do in other places.''