John J. Horgan, “Partition - A Realistic Approach: Letter to The Irish Times” (12 Dec. 1957)

[Source: Irish Times cutting found among the papers of Albert le Brocquy, Hon. Secretary of The League of Nations Society of Ireland / Cumann Gaodhalach Cómdhála na Naisiún, in possession of the Ricorso editor.]

Note: The cutting is undated other than by that subscribed to Horgan’s letter, which falls on p.5 of the paper.]

Sir, - Mr. de Valera’s speech at the Ard Fheis of his party indicates that he at all events knows that a more realistic approach is necessary to the question of partition. Stripped of the verbiage and oblique reference which the common form in such political pronouncements, Mr. de Valera specifically admitted that there was at present no hope of ending Partition by political action, but that if agreement was arrived at between the two parts of Ireland, Great Britain could not prevent its completion, and that that the only way to end partition was for “us to have as close relations as possible with the people of Northern Ireland and get them to combine with us in matters of common concern.” He emphasised that force was no remedy and that, even if feasible, it would only leave an abiding sore that would ruin our national life for generations.

Remembering, no doubt, the tripartite Border Agreement of 1925, he told the Ard Fheis that he would be very chary of referring the question to U.N.O for decision. His speech was, in effect, a frank and statesmanlike admission that our demand for political unity with Northern Ireland cannot now be satisfied, and that, to order to terminate the existing deadlock between us, we must find a modus vivendi. This, of course, can only be an agreement to disagree, to live and let live, coupled with a frank recognition of the fact that unity is not merely a question of establishing certain political machinery, but of mental agreement. Unity in this context is a spiritual, and not a material, concept.


We must recognise that the fundamental difference between the people of Northern Ireland and ourselves is that, while for us the word “unity” only means the political and economic unity, of Ireland, for them it means that of the British Isles. Bertrand de Jouvenel has the matter very clearly in his recent brilliant treatise on Sovereignty. “Thereis,” he writes, “no political mechanism capable of conserving social coherence in the face of excessice ethical incoherence. A society stretches just as far as a certain moral language is spoken and understood.”

We do not speak the same moral or political language as Northern Ireland. Between us there is a definite ethical incoherence arising from historical, religious and political differences which we have aggravated rather than alleviated since the Treaty. The armed attack on the North, has only made clear the coherence, stability, and self-control of Northern Ireland. Dynamite is not only destructive, but dangerous, for it is apt to recoil on those who use it.


Lord Brookeborough’s reply to Mr. de Valera’s olive-branch shows that he at least is prepared to go more than half-way to meet the latter’s suggestion that the future relations between the Republic and Northern Ireland should be those of Christian co-operation rather than fratricidal strife. At the same time, he made it quite clear that Northern Ireland could not, and would not, sacrifice its position as an integral part of the United Kingdom. It, therefore seems that the political leaders of the Republic and Northern Ireland are in agreement as to the necessity for a positive policy of reconciliation, a policy which offers the only hope of peace and progress for our common country. Such, an agreement between out two Governments would not only be the death-knell of violence, but a gateway to real unity. It should obviously provide that each Government recognises the other as the legitimate and democratically elected authority in the portion of Ireland now, under its control, renounces the use of forces as an instrument of policy against the other, and and will not permit its territory to be used for such a such a purpose, undertakes to respect the rights and protect the liberties of religious minorities, and agrees to co-operatie with the other in all matters where their common interests are involved.


This last objective, could best be served by the appointment of trade commissioners by each Government in Belfast and Dublin, respectively. Apparently no such liaison at present exists. No doubt, there are extremist minorities in both camps who have a vested interest in maintaining the present impasse, but Mr. de Valera and Lord Brookeborough are big enough to ignore them. Something Something more, however, than long-range debate is now required; and an agreement on the above lines, formally concluded and ratified, would not only advance the interests of our country but give a sorely-needed example of co-operation to a riven and distracted world. Mr. de Valera, unlike those who favour violent courses to attain the same end, clearly realises that only on the basis of such an agreement to disagree can we take the first stop towards ending partition - an end which in this fast-changing world may be attained sooner than now seems possible.

John. J. Horgan
Lacaduv, Cork,
December 12th, 1957.
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