Ireland and the Berlin Wall

By Fr Des Wilson (for Andersonstown News)

The celebrations for the Fall of the Wall dividing Berlin were spectacular and understandable. Not so understandable was some Irish politicians joining in. For years while they were agitating for the fall of the Berlin Wall they were working hard to strengthen the artificial military boundary separating one part of Ireland from the rest.

The Germans were sensible about their Wall. They refused to make the division of “their” territory legal. In Ireland it was different. For many years there was a constant and determined campaign by some Irish politicians to make the military boundary in Ireland permanent. In the end Irish constitutional laws were changed to make the boundary - “the border” - permanent. Strangely, this was approved by a majority of Irish people living on the “southern” side of it.

Then one of the important safeguards Irish people had on the northeastern side of the military boundary against government cruelty was removed by Irish law - they could no longer plead that government cruelty was an international responsibility, because Irish law decreed it was an internal British domestic one. That had been the London government’s position every time Irish people complained to any international body for help - what was happening in Ireland’s northeast was an internal British matter. Irish politicians worked hard to ensure that it became so by the removal of those parts of the Irish Constitution which said otherwise.

So while observers could be happy at the reuniting of territory in Gemany if this is what the people wanted, many of those in Ireland who rejoiced had arranged a different fate for their own people: the Berlin Wall dividing German people must go, the military boundary dividing Irish people must stay. By London decree and official Irish political consent.


Why did so many Irish politicians decree that Germans must be re-united and the Irish kept divided? Partly perhaps because London governments have always demanded of them - be partners with Britain or suffer retribution if you don’t. The partnership was always unequal and the retribution came anyway. Also perhaps because fear of communism, or even socialism, drove them almost frantic. Some Europeans never recovered from the fear they inherited from the American Revolution, the French Revolution, the Irish Revolution at the end of the 18th century. And from the Russian Revolution in 1917. London governments were haunted by the Irish Revolution of 1916. And by many revolutions in between all these. The fear of communism or socialism - or democracy, for that matter - is still haunting some of them like anything. Otherwise sensible persons often allowed themselves to be terrified not by terrorists but by ghosts. Even churches flung their resources into a fight against “Godless communism” while keeping friends with Godless capitalism. There was little discussion of what was wrong on the western side of the Berlin Wall, much talk of what was wrong on the eastern. Those on the eastern side who asked, “Did you ever consider what your West looks like from our side of the iron curtain?” were not listened to. That question is even more relevant today than it was twenty years ago.

The military boundary in Ireland was created for much the same reasons as the artificial military boundaries in the Middle East and at much the same time. For much the same reasons as the later Berlin Wall or the even later Israeli Wall.

Irish people will strengthen their reputation for justice if their joy at the removal of the Berlin Wall is matched by their determination that their own artificial military boundary in Ireland must disappear as well.

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