Suggestion: pay Catholics to relocate to Ireland (1974)

In December 1973 the leaders of Britain, Ireland and Northern Ireland signed the Sunningdale Agreement, which aimed to establish a power-sharing government in the troubled region. The Sunningdale plan was met with vehement opposition, particularly from strident Loyalists, who saw it was a gradual step towards unification with Ireland. By the spring of 1974, it was clear that the Sunningdale Agreement was doomed to fail. Observers began to ponder what was needed to secure peace in Northern Ireland, while some doubted that peace was even possible. The following suggestion was submitted to The Times (London) and published on April 29th 1974. It involved permanently separating Protestants and Catholics by shifting the borders of Northern Ireland and offering Catholics £5,000 to relocate permanently to the Irish Republic:


“As there is still no prospect of peace in Northern Ireland, and as the main cause of the trouble appears to be the existence of two irreconcilable communities, could we not solve the problem by providing for large-scale resettlement of the population, as would give every person the choice of remaining a citizen of the United Kingdom or… the Irish Republic? … I suggest something on the following lines:

1. Those predominately Roman Catholic areas of Northern Ireland, which lie adjacent to the present frontier [border], to become part of the territory of the Irish Republic. The new frontier to be delineated by a United Nations Commission.

2. The remaining territory of Northern Ireland to become an integral part of the United Kingdom, on the same terms as Scotland and Wales. The Irish Republic to recognise the new status of Northern Ireland and to amend its constitution accordingly.

3. Roman Catholics residing within the new borders of Northern Ireland to be given the choice of remaining there, as United Kingdom citizens, or of settling permanently in the Irish Republic as Irish citizens. In the latter event, a generous resettlement grant to be paid by the British government. Similarly, Protestants residing in the newly-transferred Catholic areas to be given the choice of settling within the new borders of Northern Ireland. In this instance, resettlement grants to be paid by the Irish government.

Such a scheme would be attended with enormous but not insuperable difficulties. Its adoption would, I think, put an end to the present campaign of violence. The IRA fish could not survive long in a wholly Loyalist sea… The cost? This would not be excessive by present-day standards [if] each family were given a resettlement grand of £5,000…

The main objectors to the scheme would be those Republicans who still cherish hopes of a united Ireland. But these hopes are based on a fallacy – that there is, or can be, a united Irish nation or people. There are in fact two peoples in Ireland who have been polarised by history into a total antipathy. They do not possess the vestige of a common loyalty, let alone a common patriotism. They worship in different churches, attend different schools, observe different customs, cherish different traditions, applaud different heroes and follow different flags…

There is not the slightest chance of the two nations combining in the foreseeable future, on any basis or on any terms… Even the most rabid of Republicans will sooner or later have to acknowledge this unpalatable fact. Why not now?”

Yours faithfully,
R. A. Bruce

loyalist bombing 1974 relocate
Police with damage caused by Loyalist bombings in Dublin, May 1974, a response to the Sunningdale Agreement