Monday, March 19, 2007


Why Irish Unity needs to happen

I was asked by a United Irelander reader last week to explain what I felt were the pros and cons of Irish reunification.

I have discussed this before on the site but since time moves on fast here in Ireland I figured I'd return to the issue once more.

Discussing the positive and negative aspects of Irish Unity is always going to be difficult because it is, at its most basic level, an emotive issue. Some people don't want to hear the argument. This post is not aimed towards those people, but rather those unionists and nationalists who are willing to look at the issue from a logical standpoint.

With that being said, permit me to outline what I feel are the positive and negative aspects of Irish reunification for both sides of the island of Ireland...

Positives for the people of Northern Ireland

Greater economic prosperity

It has now become widely accepted that in order for NI to become both competitive and economically successful, its future must be tied closely with the southern half of the island. Even NI's Secretary State Peter Hain concluded that the economy of the Northern Ireland entity was "not sustainable in the long term" and that it was becoming increasingly difficult to look at the economy of North and South except as "a sort of island of Ireland economy". You may recall that DUP leader Ian Paisley's initial response to this was to call for Hain's resignation - of course that was quietly dropped when leading economists acknowledged that Hain was talking a lot of sense!

In fact we now have the extraordinary situation where the DUP are, along with other parties in the North, calling on the British Chancellor and PM in waiting Gordon Brown to lower the North's rate of corporation tax so as to bring it in line with the rate south of the border.

Of course traditionally this is where the campaign for a United Ireland fell flat on its face - the poor economic condition of the south. The Republic was the economic equivalent of a blind, baby kitten. Nowadays that kitten has matured into a wide-eyed Celtic Tiger that is the envy of many a state in Europe. These days we have the Republic pledging to invest substantially in NI in the event of power-sharing being restored. This scenario would have been thought ridiculous around 15 years ago yet it is now the reality.

Respected economic figures such as David McWilliams and Douglas Hamilton believe that a United Ireland would be economically viable and greater economic co-operation is being regarded as the way forward, for example through the new single electricity market that will cover north and south. If we simply had one state on this island we would be more likely to avail of opportunities in the marketplace.

I think it's worth the people of NI asking themselves if they would prefer to maintain a status quo whereby the British subsidise the region annually to the tune of £1.5bn, or to instead become partners in an entirely new venture where they can contribute and make a real difference in building a new island of Ireland.

An end to the petty bickering and sectarian politics

Question Time, Questions and Answers, Let's Talk, Hearts and Minds, you've all seen the programmes where NI parties have been featured and you all know the drill - "Party A is bad, Party B is good". "No Party B is bad, Party A is good". And round and round they go. INCESSANTLY. I once interviewed Fianna Fáil's Mayor of Letterkenny Damien Blake who made the following point which I agree with wholeheartedly...

"I'll never forget watching (I think) a Let's Talk special before the last election in the North, with reps of the four main parties debating before a large audience. Not once did they discuss education, economics or healthcare. This isn't good for politics, and it's clearly not good for the regions these politicians represent."

It isn't good for politics but it's all these parties know. I submit to you that the parties are not the ones really at fault for this but rather the SYSTEM within which they operate. The north of Ireland is still defined by tribal politics. Orange vs Green. Why? Because the constitutional question has not been resolved yet.

This is not the case in the Republic of Ireland where economics, education, healthcare, crime, finance and so forth are the main issues of the day. By being part of an all island entity and a SYSTEM THAT WORKS the people of the North would see and end to the petty bickering that stalls the Northern entity interminably. Solve the constitutional question and you can get down to politics that works.

Greater level of political power

Following on from my above point, if the issue of partition is resolved then it would mean the people of the North having their parties deal with the 'bread and butter' issues of the day. One can only speculate on how an all-island entity would function but I find it hard to believe that the parties of the North, both unionist and nationalist, would consent to leaving everything to Dublin to sort out. In fact, if they did so, I wager Sinn Féin with their leftist policies and questionable economic beliefs would find themselves in a very unappealing position. It wouldn't surprise me if some sort of loose federal arrangement was worked out, perhaps building on the current Northern Ireland entity along with the three other Ulster counties of Cavan, Donegal and Monaghan. Still, some form of national dialogue would be required for issues that affect the entire island and it's in this area that the northern parties would wield significant power.

In the United Kingdom the North's parties are an irrelevance. Perceived to be a confusing, peculiar, argumentative bunch who are never happy and best left alone. They hold little influence on the UK as a whole, particularly in the British First-Past-The-Post system. However, in a United Ireland, northern influence, an Ulster bloc if you will, would hold a significant degree of power. No longer bit-players but rather at the forefront of national developments, particularly with the Irish Proportional Representation system.

It pains me to an extent to have to say this but I see European expansion and integration as a slow and gradual inevitability. In fifty years time "nationalism" will most likely have become the irrelevance. In such a situation, well managed northern interests would be at the forefront of Irish national plans.

Reason, not treason

People within unionism who talk of Irish reunification as having potentially great benefit for people of the North might be met with words like "traitor" or "Lundy" but this does not add up when looking at the history of this island.

Many within unionism may be unaware of the original Irish volunteers, the group from the 1780s, who appeared more than a century before the inception of the more well-known group of the same name. However the original Irish Volunteers were formed in Belfast, were 40,000 strong and half of them came from Ulster. They were mainly drawn from the Protestant urban and rural middle classes. They were loyal to the Crown and were strongly influenced by American ideas. Why do I bring this up you ask?

Because their aim was to secure legislative freedom for the Dublin parliament, later known as "Grattan's parliament." Strange how things turn out eh?

Let us not forget either that Presbyterians suffered much at the hands of the British, so much so that many were very much involved in the United Irishmen's efforts to make Ireland a separate and free republic.

As time moved on we got to a point where unionists felt they were better off remaining part of the Union, and, unlike their ancestors, felt they were better being as close to the British as possible. They also began to oppose the idea of Home Rule and legislative independence for Ireland. Still, it was not the aim of unionism to partition the island and Edward Carson, the leading figure of unionism, was against the notion. He sought to use it only as a threat to make the Home Rulers back down but it was extremist elements of unionism that ran with the idea. This was more to do with anti-Catholic hostility ("Home Rule is Rome Rule") rather than a commitment to the Union.

In fact, many unionists might be unaware that James Craig actually sought to have Home Rule for Northern Ireland which would have meant leaving the UK as the Irish Free State did! A proposal that infuriated Lloyd George and the other British delegates:

"Craig's suggestion of dominion status for Northern Ireland made the unionists intensely unpopular and the British cabinet resented their sabotage of its plans for a settlement with Irish nationalists." - 'The Partition of Ireland: 1911-1925' by Prof. Michael Laffan.

So I put it to unionists that the idea they must remain part of the United Kingdom in order to stay true to what traditional unionism stands for is, in actual fact, contrary to what traditional unionism has stood for!

Better without a border
Is a border really necessary?

Negatives for the people of Northern Ireland


I was going to write instability as the title of this topic until I realised that implying the current entity is stable would be stretching things quite a bit. One of the negatives of reunification however would involve the changes that would take place as a result. Clearly then it would make sense to try and make it as slow and as easy as possible. A process rather than an event. People would want to know that their bins would be collected at the same time, their paper delivered in the same way, their route to work would remain the same and so on and so forth.

It would all come down to how people adapted to changes such as all-island institutions, all-island symbols, all-island groups and, generally, an all-island attitude of life. What I would say is that, as a citizen of Dublin, I have seen my city change and alter in dramatic fashion in a very short space of time and I think myself and the majority of people in the city have adapted to it pretty well. My guess is that certain areas would adapt better than others. In Tyrone, Fermanagh, South Armagh, Derry, Down I could see changes implemented rather well. I think in parts of Antrim change would prove very difficult for some.

Positives for the people of the south of Ireland

Greater resources

Gaining over a million citizens and the creation of a new state could create great opportunities and further Ireland's chances of proving a force in Europe. An all-island entity could see a greater degree of investment assuming the economic transition is a smooth one. The decision by the Republic to invest in the North if power-sharing is restored, for example through improving all-island infrastructure, proves that there is financial benefit to be had for the south too.

Lifting of a burden

It would be dishonest to suggest that the British government are the only ones to bear the burden of the North's woes. The south has, in a lot of ways, been affected by events in the North and even today we can see the importance of events in the north to the island as a whole by the amount of time devoted to the region. In fact, Bertie Ahern is on record as saying that dealing with the issue of Northern Ireland is the most important for a Taoiseach. If the constitutional question was resolved once and for all then the people of the south, like the people of the north, could look to the future without dwelling on events of the past.

Negatives for the people of the south of Ireland


This works both ways. How would the people of the south have to deal with the inevitable compromises that a new state would bring? Would the people countenance things such as a new anthem, a higher degree of taxation to help the transition, and, perhaps, a new flag to boot? Many of these would prove very emotive issues. It's also worth pointing out that the Republic is primarily about treating citizens as equals so many might prove resentful about having to make so many changes to please a minority. Clearly a lot of dialogue would be necessary.


It is hard to say how extremist Republican groups would react to some of the potential changes that might be necessary to incorporate unionists in a fair manner. It is also hard to say how extremist Loyalist groups would react to the transition. It would come down to making the changes as transparent and as fair as humanly possible. It would have to be about a common agenda and not individual interests.

So there you have it. That is my take on the pros and cons, the positives and negatives, of Irish reunification. Ultimately it comes down to weighing up both sides and balancing both aspects of the argument to see what you feel is most beneficial for the future.

As I touched on above this can prove very tough when dealing with a largely emotive and complex issue. For some it will prove impossible.

Like those in Scotland who desire separation from the UK and an independent state, we here in Ireland who desire a similar arrangement must make it as reasonable an arrangement as can be.

It is my belief that the reunification of Ireland offers the fairest and best solution for ALL groups that inhabit this small island of ours. It is up to people of all races, colours and creeds to reflect on the opportunities available and make their mind up on what they feel is the best course of action.

That is my take on Irish Unity but what are your thoughts?


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