Current Affairs Politics

Planning For A United Ireland: Sooner Rather Than Later

In previous years the poor-to-disastrous showing by Sinn Féin in the national and regional local government and European Parliament elections would have led to claims by some sections of the Irish and British press that the results were a vote against a reunited Ireland. However in the wake of the Good Friday Agreement, fading memories of the so-called Troubles, and the Brexit referendum in the United Kingdom, the discussion about reunification has spread well beyond the usual republican circles and can no longer be tied to the electoral fate of SF (which, of course, was an erroneous measure in the first place). Last month’s election day exit poll organised by RTÉ/TG4 recorded overwhelming support for unification, particularly among younger voters, and even Fine Gael, traditionally lukewarm on the idea of a unitary state across the island, has found itself in a sort of tug-of-war between those pouring cold water on talk of a united Ireland and those broaching the subject among its ranks. This has left the partitionist voices in the Irish media relatively muted on the pro- or anti-unity implications of the SF vote, partly illustrating how the chaotic politics of the UK is having more of an influence on the question of a thirty-two county republic in Ireland than anything else on this island.

With the possibility of a united or incrementally-united Ireland now being part of the mainstream debate in Dublin and London, and some seeing it as almost inevitable in the context of Brexit, others have started to lobby for strategies to stave off that fateful day. Notable among these has been Séamus Mallon, the veteran former deputy leader of the SDLP, who has proposed the insertion of a super-majority clause into any referendum on reunification, echoing the opinions of senior pro-union figures, turning the plebiscite into a 1920s-style sectarian headcount. One in which the votes of unionists or Protestants are of greater value or weight than the votes of nationalists or Catholics. This would effectively gerrymander the democratic system in the Six Counties to give pro-union voters an indefinite veto over a united Ireland even if a majority in the disputed region was in support of it. For a nominally nationalist politician and life-long advocate for the supremacy of the ballot box, of votes over bullets, this an extraordinary position to take, arguably legitimatising the imposition and maintenance of partition by Britain in the first place while lending support to the anti-democratic threats of contemporary unionist leaders.

A more realistic view on the requirements for the reintegration of the national territory comes from Gerry Adams, the former Sinn Féin leader, in this recent Léargas post:

The northern state was a gerrymandered entity, created on the basis of a sectarian headcount. It provided unionism with what was believed in 1920 to be a permanent, in-built two thirds majority. Unionism then set about consolidating its dominance further through discrimination in housing and employment and in the gerrymandering of electoral boundaries.

No one I know who wants a United Ireland believes that it should be any other than a warm house for unionism, built on a foundation of equality and inclusiveness. This is evident in the debate taking place on the unity is

Sinn Féin may be the most vocal United Ireland party but we are not the only one. Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Irish Labour Party have dusted down their uniting Ireland positions. Some republicans may dismiss that as rhetoric from these parties. That misses the point. Of course it’s rhetoric. But it is also popular, so the Taoiseach and the Fianna Fáil leader will continue with it. Our task is to get them to move beyond the rhetoric. To follow the logic of their utterances. To move from platitudes to planning. Others too must be encouraged to engage in this necessary work if the questions that everyone is asking are to be answered.

So rhetoric is not enough. The Irish Government has a duty to plan for unity. There is a constitutional imperative on Dublin ‘to unite all the people who share the territory of the island of Ireland’. This cannot be accomplished without a plan.

The Irish government needs to open up consultations on how this might be done.

Not after the referendum. That is the one big lesson of Brexit. A referendum without a plan is stupid. So a referendum on unity must be set in a thoughtful inclusive process which sets out a programme of sustainable options. Including phases of transition.

What accommodations are needed to persuade political unionism that a United Ireland can work for it? Key to this is the need for it to be an agreed shared Ireland. What happens to the political institutions established by the Good Friday Agreement?

Winning support for a United Ireland is not just about persuading unionists although that is crucial. Everyone needs to be convinced of the advantages of unity – personal, economic, wages, health provision, environmental, cultural, peace, prosperity.

And republicans need to be at the forefront of the debate on the benefits of a united Ireland and the planning for an all-island state, accepting that reunification may make for uncomfortable but necessary compromises on all sides.


14 comments on “Planning For A United Ireland: Sooner Rather Than Later

  1. Breandán Mac Séarraigh

    I never thought much of Séamus Mallon (unlike John Hume) but this us sickening. Even Peter Robinson has accepted the validity of a majority vote within the gerrymandered statelet.


  2. Yes, all the Golden 400 want is a million politicized Taigs voting.


  3. “the possibility of a united or incrementally-united Ireland now being part of the mainstream debate in Dublin and London”

    Indeed. And the GFA is black and white on the poll. I just re-read it. And there shouldn’t be a unionist veto. And on balance I’d like to see a UI at some point, but it’s not top of my political agenda.

    But for everyone’s sakes make it clear what the border poll means. Otherwise there will be those who interpret it on a spectrum of ‘United Ireland now and screw the, for the sake of argument, 45% who voted against in the north’ to ‘well that was an interesting indicative vote for a UI – now lets talk about how we get there in the most peaceful and consensual way possible – perhaps we need another vote once that’s agreed.’

    An above all, what kind of United Ireland do we want? One with, for instance, a right to basic services (health, education, childcare, housing) written into the constitution would be far more attractive to people in the North who value the NHS.

    Would it be highly federated, or Dublin & Belfast with continuing economic advantage over the rest?

    But please, no repeat of the Brexit 52% for something not thought through that will then suck the life out of class politics for a generation.


    • gendjinn

      52% is a majority though. And the only cure to NI is re-unification.

      And just as in the south in 1922 there will be a segment of Unionism that is irreconcilable to the new state. The RTÉ documentary on the first 70 years of the state covered examples of these people and how they maintained their allegiance to the UK, signing GSTQ every night, until they died out in the 70s. TCD for example was a well known retreat of the Anglo-Irish irreconcilables.

      There is no possibility of compromise with this group, they will demand anything they believe would cause the 26 counties to vote against re-unification. It is the tiny minority of Unionism that is not voting for DUP/UUP/TUV/UKIP are reachable and can be reconciled to the new state. It is this group that we can work with, working with the irreconcilables will solely be an exercise in frustration.


    • Federalism and The NHS have come up here before.

      It seems to that on Federalism: If the Ulster cohort keeps pushing for that it might end up better to go with the four provinces than just give them a similar devolved deal to what they had in The UK. Also another preemptive plan might involve relentlessly puppy-proofing The Constitution against any loophole they could use for voter suppression or gerrymandering.

      As for the NHS vs Irish system. If the folks in The North love the NHS half as much as The English and a significant chunk of the population in The Republic doesn’t want to go down that road… could be a long source of political conflict and “clash of the cultures”.


    • The Brits will never hand over the occupied 6 counties and Bertie and Co and the people of the 26 COUNTIES VOTED to remove the rightful Constitutional claim on these counties , so where is the talk of a United Ireland in London? its utter nonsense. English Nationalism is on the rise and the GFA will be torn up by the next Tory PM.


      • gendjinn

        They left Hong Kong.

        Can’t see the EU standing idly by while the UK reneges on treaty commitment to a member state.


      • Wee Jim

        The EU may have no choice about having to take over the 6 counties and quite a few European citizens too. Much of the English nationalism takes the form of Little Englandism and general hostility to foreigners, especially Europeans. Expect an end to the CTA as well.


  4. john cronin

    The south cannot afford the place and that’s all there is to it.


    • The south couldn’t afford to bail out the banks but somehow it did. Unifying Ireland would be a mere fraction of that invoice!


  5. SF have lost the plot, neatly 50% loss of Council seat, 2 out 3 MEP’s gone, so where is the support gone?


  6. The R.O.I. wouldn’t have been able to afford to bail out anything if it hadn’t itself received an international bail out, which included £3.2 billion from the U.K.. It has paid back a total of £358 million in interest alone to the U.K. since 2011.


  7. A United Ireland makes so much sense on so many levels.

    Concomitantly, an independent Scotland within the EU would sit very well with an independent Ireland. And especially so when reading about future PM Boris Johnston’s intentions, should he become PM to crash the Irish backstop and exit the EU with no deal and not paying the EU the £39 billion acknowledged to be owed by the UK to the EU.

    Democracy, or the perception of a functioning democracy has now Ben laid bare. A mere 51% of a non binding referendum is now being driven through as a justification for crashing us all ou5bof the EU.

    Not a jot or concern about Ireland, Northern Ireland, the GFA or the fact that a majority in NI and an even bigger majority in the ROI voted to remain.

    Not a jot or concern about Scotland where 62% voted to remain, where that percentage is now even greater, where the SNP form the government in the Scottish Parliament, where the SNP hold the majority of Scottish seats in Westminster, where the SNP, save for the Islands of orkney and Shetland took every constituency in Scotland at the recent Euro election poll.

    Where now for democracy in Scotland as the Labour and Tory unionist parties languish on 8% and 9% respectively.

    Voting in Scotland is a joke. It counts for nothing.Something has to change, and it will. Future PB Johnson’s father Stanley recently said who cares if the Irish start shooting themselves again. But the Irish should care, and they have a way out in a United Ireland welcoming and open.

    And in Scotland we too have a way out in an Independent Scotland. Welcoming and open. We do not need to wait until the democratic deficit turns to bitter hatred as so inevitably happens when democracy is denied and trampled underfoot.

    Neither should we wait for our economies to be ruined as business flees our shores due to Brexit. The example of the car industry, Nissan, Jaguar Landrover, Toyota, Honda, and now Ford relocating production into Europe and beyond is testimony to the economic ruin is wreaking.

    The lumpen Brixiteers of England lead by the Brexit elites will come to regret their hatred and rejection of the EU and all nations European. But that should be their insanity, not ours.

    So let us hope a United Ireland and Independent Scotland beckons in the very near future. I hope so.


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