Alternative Names For Northern Ireland - Government Proposals To Rename Northern Ireland As Ulster - 1949 Ulster Proposal

1949 Ulster Proposal

At a British Cabinet meeting on 22 November 1948 it was decided that a Working Party be established to " what consequential action may have to be taken by the United Kingdom Government as a result of Eire's ceasing to be a member of the Commonwealth". At the time the Irish parliament was soon expected to pass the Republic of Ireland Act, by which Ireland (formally referred to as "Eire" by the British authorities) would shortly become a republic, and thereby leave the Commonwealth.

The Working Party was chaired by the Cabinet Secretary, Norman Brook. Its report dated 1 January 1949 was presented by Prime Minister Clement Attlee to the Cabinet on 7 January 1949. Among its recommendations were that the name of Northern Ireland should be changed to Ulster. In this regard the Working Party's report noted:

The Government of Northern Ireland have formally asked that the title of Northern Ireland should now be changed to "Ulster"...As a name "Ulster" is clearly to be preferred to "Northern Ireland." "The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ulster" is a rounder and more resounding title than "the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland." ...The majority of the working party conclude that the balance of advantage lies on the side of adopting the title "Ulster" for the six counties. We all agree, however, that the arguments against making this change should be put to the Prime Minister of Northern Ireland before a final decision is taken by Ministers.

The Working Party's report appended draft legislation (a draft of the Ireland Act) including provision for the "Ulster" name change. With respect to the arguments against the name change, the report noted in particular that that the UK's "Representative" (effectively Ambassador) in Dublin believed taking the name "Ulster" would "give fresh opportunities for anti-British propaganda by Eire". The report also noted that the Commonwealth Relations Office also held that view and its representative on the working party had asked that before a final decision be taken:

the Prime Minister of Northern Ireland should be made aware of the view held by the United Kingdom Representative in Dublin and should, in particular, be asked whether he thinks it tactically wise that the North (i) should abandon any reference to the word "Ireland" in their title and (ii) should abandon the title "Northern Ireland," with which their record in the last war is so closely associated, especially in the United States.

A Downing Street Conference between the UK and Northern Ireland governments was held on 6 January 1949. The Conference was held on the initiative of the Northern Ireland Government. Its purpose was to consider possible legislation to give statutory effect to Prime Minister Clement Attlee's assurance that Northem Ireland's constitutional position would not be prejudiced by the Republic of Ireland Act by which Ireland had decided to leave the British Commonwealth and any other possible consequences for Northern Ireland arising from the Irish decision. The UK government was represented at the Conference by the Prime Minister, the Lord Chancellor, the Home Secretary, and the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations while Northern Ireland premier Sir Basil Brooke led the Northern Ireland delegation. Prime Minister Attlee reported to his Cabinet colleagues the following day that he had discussed relevant Working Party proposals with the Northern Ireland delegation. "As a result of that discussion", Attlee reported that he would "recommend that the title of Northern Ireland should not he changed to Ulster".

On 10 January 1949, Prime Minister Attlee presented a memorandum of his own to his Cabinet. With respect to his recommendation that the name for Northern Ireland should not be changed, he said:

The consideration which weighed most with me and with the other Ministers whom I consulted was that the proposed use of the title "Ulster" was likely to provoke acute controversy among Irishmen in other Commonwealth countries. This in itself would be unfortunate: but, even worse, it would aggravate the difficulties of securing the agreement of other Commonwealth Governments to the necessary change in The King's title. In discussion with the Northern Ireland Ministers we found that they were not disposed to press very strongly for the adoption of the title "Ulster." Their main anxiety was that the United Kingdom Government should not formally admit the Eire Government's claim to the title "Ireland" and thereby prejudice the Partition issue. They would have preferred that we should continue to use "Eire" as a formal description of the twenty-six counties. We convinced them that, as by international usage; a country is free to determine its own title, it would be fruitless for us to try to secure international acceptance of the term "Eire" as a title for the South, and that we had no practical alternative but to recognise the new title taken in the Republic of Ireland Act. At the same time, we explained that we should make it clear in our legislation that the term "Republic of Ireland " applied only to the territory which had hitherto been known as Eire (i.e., the twenty-six counties); and that we should be careful in all official usage to refer to the South as "the Republic of Ireland " or " the Irish Republic" reserving "Ireland" as a geographical description of the island as a whole. In colloquial usage it would no doubt be possible to mark the distinction by speaking of "Southern Ireland" and "Northern Ireland." We added that we should also be prepared to recommend a change in The King's title by which "Northern Ireland" would be substituted for " Ireland." This last point made a great appeal to the Northern Ireland Ministers; and on this basis they were content that we should formally recognise the title "Republic of Ireland" as a description of the twenty-six counties and should continue to use "Northern Ireland" as a description of the North. I commend this solution to the Cabinet.

The proposed name change was the subject of some reportage in the media with The Times reporting shortly before the conference:

CHANGE OF NAME In addition to the question whether statutory effect should be given to the verbal assurance of Mr. Attlee that Northem Ireland's constitutional position will be in no way prejudiced by the Republic of Ireland Act, the Northern Ireland Ministers are expected to raise the subject of a possible change in the name of their part of the United Kingdom. There have been many suggestions that to differentiate it more clearly from the Republic of Ireland - as Eire will be styled in future - Northern Ireland should be renamed 'Ulster'.

The fresh proposal to change the name to Ulster drew protest from the Nationalist Party MP for Fermanagh and Tyrone, Anthony Mulvey. He sent a telegram to Attlee to strongly "protest against any proposal to change the title Northern Ireland to Ulster". Mulvey argued that "ny assent to the suggestion proposed can only be regarded as a calculated affront to the Irish nation and still further embitter relations between the peoples of Great Britain and Ireland...". Mulvey sent a telegram in similar terms to the Irish Minister for External Affairs, Seán MacBride who responded as follows:.

You may rest assured that nothing will be done by the Irish Government which would lend sanction to any such proposal.

The UK government cabinet minutes of 12 January 1949 noted that "N.I. Ministers accepted the name “N.I.” eventually" A few days after the Conference The Times also reported that "t is not thought that the suggestion to rename Northern Ireland "Ulster" has found much support." In a somewhat colourful but not too accurate explanation of events, in the run up to the General Election in Northern Ireland in 1949 Thomas Loftus Cole declared that the British Government had refused to allow the name change "because the area did not comprise the nine counties of the province. We should demand our three counties so that we could call our country Ulster, a name of which we are all proud".

Read more about this topic:  Alternative Names For Northern Ireland, Government Proposals To Rename Northern Ireland As Ulster