Current Affairs Economics Irish Republican Politics

Initially, A United Ireland Would Be Neither Federal Or Confederal

As the Irish Times has noted, talk of a reunited Ireland is very much in the air. This is reflected in the announcement by the Fianna Fáil leader, Micheál Martin TD, that his party is preparing a detailed proposal or White Paper on reunification. According to the Journal the policy document will suggest that unity may require:

  • Two parliaments. If there was a united Ireland, would there be two parliaments, one north, one south? “In my view, there would,” Micheál Martin said
  • Education. Martin says there is the potential for an All-Ireland approach. This includes third-level education and research
  • One All-Ireland food safety body
  • One Enterprise Ireland to promote all small business
  • A common corporate tax rate.

All sorts of terms have been bandied around by politicians and journalists since the certainty of Brexit became obvious late last year. However much confusion exists in the language and the concepts being discussed. For a start the reunification of Ireland will not take place in the context of a confederation or a federation, or indeed a new nation state of any kind on the island. That would represent a major alteration to the existing Irish nation state, one significant enough for the united territory to be regarded as a new and sovereign entity under international law. Do we really want to see a Thirty-Two County republic applying for membership of the United Nations and the European Union, with all the global legal, diplomatic, security and economic troubles associated with that?

In order to achieve a constitutionally smooth process of reunification Ireland would need to argue that it was simply exercising a form of territorial reintegration. That is the Six Counties would be integrated into the national territory presently represented by the Twenty-Six Counties. The resultant Thirty-Two County entity would act as the continuing state of Ireland and not a successor state, a hugely important point under international law. What the country might decide to do thereafter under local arrangements, be they federal or otherwise, would be a largely domestic affair. Though even there, crucial differences exist between concepts like federation and confederation. The former may be internal but the latter might have external implications for relationships with other entities, be they countries or transnational organisations.

This is why a “Reverse Good Friday Agreement” would be the only practical arrangement to cover the early years of reunification. In theory both governments, through international treaty, have already left the door open to such a transition, while Bunreacht na hÉireann readily facilitates it (legislation through the Oireachtas would formalise any move from “east-west” to “north-south”). For the Dublin and London governments it would simply be a matter of swapping roles, at least initially. Again, whatever follows after that period of transition, whatever devolved or shared powers were granted to a north-eastern region would be a purely Irish affair, the British acting as guarantors of unionist autonomy.

We should remember that precisely this model, a self-governing “North-East Ulster”, was offered to the pro-UK unionist minority on the island way back in the 1920s, during the Irish Revolution. Rather than inventing new and untenable templates the reunification of the country will have to look back to the old ones first. Including the rather more recent reunification of Germany.


17 comments on “Initially, A United Ireland Would Be Neither Federal Or Confederal

  1. What about a 9 Counties Parliament based on Ulster with powers over everything except Defence and Foreign Affairs which will be run from Dublin?

    • I’d be open to that as some transitional measure for limited period of time before full integration.

      • It might well last indefinitely. If it keeps the peace and gives us an ordered transition to reunification then I suspect most people could live with it.

    • I can’t see it being workable for unionists. That would make them an even smaller minority in a northern/north-east region. Unfortunately reunification will require some unpalatable compromises. An administrative nine-county Ulster will be one of them. Though the county thing doesn’t bother me as much as the provincial one. I have no real affection for counties per se.

  2. Greg Cullen

    Making a hames of it already before it’s even started.How political.Boys and girls,26+6=32.Understand?!Then get on with it!!!2,TWO!Parliaments for a UNITED country?!!
    Give Liz,Phil and Teresa a time period to get all their stuff out of the 6 counties,reminding them to leave it as they found it.Get a few photos taken for the press,have a few hob nobby dinners with speeches and toasts so that they think they are doing something grand and worthy.Wish them all the best and wave them goodbye.Let an election take place for Politicians who will realise they are Employees of the Public and therefore ANSWER to them.A decent salary of €24,000 – €60,000 (according to position),a pension of €18,000 – €36,000,again based on position.Get caught in any shenanigans,they loose the lot and pay their own defence costs.Ask Joe and Josephine Public,I think this could work.

    • Unfortunately, or fortunately, a Six County region seems the only workable transition for reunification. Not two parliaments but one national parliament and one regional assembly with severely limited powers.

  3. Lets just all work together for a United Ireland. No more bull.

  4. ar an sliabh

    The German template should fit just fine. Drop the border, adopt the traditional capital, adopt Irish laws, change over currency, done. Only changes to that model would be not paying any money to the Brits, and insisting on the term re-unification. Luckily, infrastructure, economic systems, and overall condition should not incur too much debt in the consolidation process.

    • Yes, but in Germany you have the federal states, who are actually pretty damn federal. The East German states became (West) German. That won’t work in Ireland. Initially it couldn’t because of international law, and even some way down the line I wouldn’t favour it. Devolution along UK lines, regionalism, would be better.

      • ar an sliabh

        I kind of thought I had that under Irish law and with the insistence of a reunification, not a “merger,” of sorts. A “merger,” like it was done with the East and the West German states, would totally invalidate 800+ years of struggle for freedom and give credence to claims of rightful sovereignty of the Northern Irish Commonwealth member-state, establishing federal states rights that would only seriously complicate things. There is nothing wrong with the way it’s set up now with the counties et al. No need to set up the old provinces as states of a federation or confederation either, I totally agree that wouldn’t work at all. I meant just to add the 6 counties as such and be done with it. “Schluss, fertig, aus,” as they say in German.

  5. A simple 32 county republic sounds great in principle. In reality though, the government for the next 20 years would probably be a FG/UUP coalition. You’d probably wave goodbye to a majority voting pro-choice in any referendum. Also you’d probably have a very strong anti-Irish language lobby, though maybe not a majority.

    • More like Sinn Féin/Fainna Fáil coalition in the next 20 years,good times ahead in a 32 county Irish Republic.

      • I don’t disagree on both suggestions. I could certainly see the Alliance Party surviving reunification. Chunks of the DUP, UUP and TUV would likely rebrand as Ulster separatist parties.

    • I can’t see much point in unionist parties continuing to exist after the establishment of an all-Ireland state, after all the union would no longer exist, though they might hobble on for a transitional period. Most rural, small town/village, former unionist voters would gravitate naturally towards Fine Gael, the urban working class might feel more comfortable with the Irish Labour Party. It goes without saying that none would favour Sinn Fein. The S.D.L.P. would probably cease to exist : past S.D.L.P. politicians who went south like Austin Currie and John Cushnahan joined Fine Gael, so the majority of former S.D.L.P. voters might also gravitate toward them. As the chief cheerleaders for a United Ireland Sinn Fein would no doubt get a boost, but might also take the blame for the inevitable problems which are bound to occur after unification.

      • Even Tom Elliott of the UUP said if the Irish presidential Referendum passes,he doesn’t want polling stations in northern Ireland,the unionists just live in fear. But once they don’t resort to violence,we can still have a United Ireland in a decade or so.

    • I know. A quandary isn’t it? Pearse of course indicated that he would be happy to have a Home Rule Ireland in the UK if it was an Irish-speaking country. That was the prime motivator of his republicanism. Politics was subservient to language and culture. I am more in sympathy with that strand of republican thought than simply freedom and any type of freedom at any price.

  6. ar an sliabh


Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: