If RC Sproul Jr values freedom and democracy, he should revise his view of Northern Ireland

Yesterday, I came across these absolutely astounding tweets by RC Sproul Jr.

They are, unfortunately, symptomatic of a view that is prevalent in the States.

My undergrad History & Politics degree focused on Northern Ireland and was undertaken at one of the only universities in the UK with a dedicated Irish Studies department. My dissertation was on the political development of Loyalist paramilitarism in Northern Ireland. When I completed my MA in Theology, my thesis was on the politicisation of Evangelicals in Northern Ireland and their role in the politics of the region. I have also had a paper published in an academic journal on Evangelicals and politics in the region. Whilst I don’t consider myself an expert on these things, it is fair to say I am not entirely unqualified.

The view pressed by Sproul Jr stems from a misplaced view of ‘freedom fighting’ that is prevalent in the American mindset. Indeed, such is the power of this narrative that American leaders – from John Kennedy through to Bill Clinton – continued to fund the terrorist activities of the Provisional IRA. This funding only stopped under George W. Bush’s administration. Successive British governments pleaded with the US to stop funding terrorism on British soil to no avail. It was only following the 2001, September 11th terror attack that it suddenly dawned on America that terrorism really isn’t all that great and calling them ‘freedom fighters’ doesn’t make it any better.

But, quite apart from that, Sproul Jr insists that Northern Ireland is under ‘English rule.’ That is a comment so staggeringly ignorant of the political situation in the region is beggars belief. For one, the English have nothing to do with Northern Irish rule at all. Northern Ireland is not under ‘English rule.’ Indeed, there is no such thing as ‘English rule.’ All the nations within the United Kingdom have their own government with the exception of one: England. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have their own devolved powers. Only England has no such devolved parliament.

Similarly, the Protestant community in Northern Ireland do not consider themselves English. The English don’t consider them English either. They consider themselves both British and Northern Irish. To suggest that they are subject to ‘English rule’ – presumably making them English citizens – is just, point blank, untrue.

There is a parliament in England. The parliament in Westminster is not, however, the English parliament. It is the British parliament. Despite how Sproul Jr seeks to present it, Northern Ireland is not subject to ‘English rule’ imposed on it in an English parliament. Rather, Northern Ireland send their own representatives – along with all the other constituencies across England, Wales and Scotland – to the British parliament. The Northern Irish do not have ‘English rule’ imposed on them by an English parliament in which they have no say. They have their own devolved Stormont Assembly, with its own powers and governance – with their own First Minister and everything – and send their own representatives to sit in the British parliament in which they have an equal say with all the constituency MPs from England, Wales and Scotland.

It also bears remembering that residents of Northern Ireland have the right to adopt Irish citizenship, British citizenship or dual nationality. So, since 1998, nobody is bound to remain a British citizen. One can have a British or Irish passport. Likewise, Northern Irish residents can vote for parties that sit in their own Assembly. What is more, they may vote for parties that sit exclusively in Northern Ireland, that sit across the island of Ireland or that sit across the United Kingdom. The people of Northern Ireland are free to choose to which country they will belong and may vote for representatives who stand in whatever countries to which they choose to belong.

Perhaps most strangely of all, the inference that the English are imposing rules upon a subjugated colony, ignores both the history of how partition came about and why it has remained firmly in place ever since. Considering Sproul Jr makes much of people being free, he doesn’t seem to factor in the freedom of national self determination. The reason Northern Ireland is still British is because a majority of people within the region wish it to be so. They have freely chosen to remain in union with Britain. They have had proper votes on it and everything. Should a majority of people in the region determine that they wish to be subsumed into Ireland, it is written into our law that it will be so. But, as it stands, the free people of Northern Ireland have freely determined that they would freely remain part of the United Kingdom.

It has always been my view that self determination and democracy ought to win out. Should a majority of Cornish (yes, there is a Cornish separatist movement) , Scottish, Welsh or Northern Irish people wish to become independent or join another nation, I am quite happy to let them. That is part of what it means to be a democrat and evidently has some bearing on what it means to be genuinely free.

Scotland fairly recently had a referendum in which they determined they would prefer to remain part of Britain than become an independent nation. The whole of the United Kingdom had an even more recent vote on whether to remain in or leave the supranational European Union. Northern Ireland have likewise had democratic votes on the question of joining Ireland or remaining in Britain. They have consistently chosen the latter. In all these cases, if we genuinely believe in freedom and self determination, it is for the people themselves to decide where they will belong.

Insisting that Northern Ireland ought to be joined to Ireland would, in point of fact, be to subjugate the people of Northern Ireland, against their collective will, to a neighbour they have stated they do not wish to join. By all means, the moment the majority change their minds on that question, let them join Ireland. But let’s just remember that they have freely determined by majority democratic vote that they wish to remain British. Using the word ‘free’ to force the people to do whatever you think best is paternalism. That’s certainly not freedom is it?