For us republicans, Irish re-unification has always been preserved centre stage for everything we adhere to. The republican struggle has always been about bringing about the eventuality of a united Ireland and the benefits it would bring to all citizens within the 32 counties. To our opponents though, this central belief to the republican ideology has long been dismissed outright as just an idealistic notion, something that republicans just wish for but “sure it will never happen anyway”. However, what is evident from the seismic political events recently is that this ‘romantic vision’ is no longer just that, it has now been placed firmly on the agenda in a capacity never seen before and it’s the route the island of Ireland is heading towards for its greater good.
The big beast in the room that has catapulted Irish unity front and centre of the political sphere is quite obviously Brexit. The north of Ireland against its wishes is being dragged out of the EU. The majority of voters here voted to remain within the European Union but as a result of the ‘little Englander’ mentality of Britain we are heading towards a Tory fuelled hard Brexit (unless Labour pulls off a shock result at the general election) with little to no concern for the north. The consequences of which will no doubt be severe. A hard border looks to be unavoidable no matter what way it’s dressed up. Any physical form of a border in the island of Ireland will not only undermine the Good Friday Agreement but will lead to great resentment across the 32 counties pushing more and more people down the route of Irish unity. It will be catastrophic for the whole of Ireland. The loss of millions of pounds of EU funding towards peace projects and subsidies to farmers will cripple the economy of the north. The replacement of such funds won’t be coming from the Tories after Brexit with more harsh austerity measures the only projected outcome which again will only serve to weaken and further cripple our already precarious economy and frontline services. So, with a hard right Conservative government, who in reality couldn’t give a damn about the north (evident by Theresa Mays complete lack of interest and regard) steering us over a cliff edge, Irish Unity has now took centre stage and will be the only logical outcome to the disaster we are heading towards. Scotland already is demanding another independence referendum which most likely will result in a triumph for the YES campaign. This will only serve to further aid the united Ireland campaign and result in the biggest irony of Brexit, the dissolution of the so called ‘United Kingdom’.
One of the biggest arguments thrown against a united Ireland is the misconceived notion that “sure it could never be afforded”. The harsh reality here is that partition has not only socially and culturally been a disaster for the north but also economically. It doesn’t make sense for Ireland, an island on the edge of Europe with a population of just over 6 million people to be partitioned into a 26 county state and a 6 county state with two competing economies, two competing health services, two competing education services, transport services, infrastructure services, agricultural services etc etc. The duplication of services is dodo economics and only serves to further show the idiocy of partition. The belief that outside the Westminster subvention the north couldn’t function in a United Ireland is totally misconstrued to suit a one a sided agenda. A recent study led by Dr Kurt Hübner from the University of British Colombia in Vancouver produced a study into a united Ireland economy which concluded that a re-unified, harmonised country and economy would deliver a boon of 36 billion Euros over eight years. It stated that the norths GDP per capitia could potentially increase by 4% to 7.5%. Such a study by a non-biased professional goes someway to dismissing the long held arguments against Irish Unity surrounding the economy. No doubt the economic question will be central to the united Ireland debate but with the direction the Tory led Britain is heading with its socio-economics that normalises xenophobia and tramples on people’s quality of living, more and more citizens within the north will come to see that a united Ireland is where they are better off.
The result of the March assembly elections has further shaken the shackles of partition. The once held belief of an ever perpetual unionist majority within Stormont and the north has been rescinded to the dustbin. The unionist majority in Stormont has gone; the election was the first to highlight the drastically changed demographics within the six counties which are changing year by year. Sinn Féin secured nearly 225’000 votes, its highest ever vote in the 6 counties and just a thousand votes behind the DUP and one seat. Those who long to cling onto the dismantled orange state have to recognise that equality and parity of esteem are the only ways forward. In the not too distant future it’s undeniably tenable that Sinn Féin will be the largest political party overall within the 6 counties. This should not frighten or threaten those who identify as Unionist and British. Our frontline progressive republican politics espouse and enshrine equality for everyone. We mean what we preach and what we want is a new agreed reconciled Ireland that respects all traditions but also all traditions respecting each other’s. Matt Carthy Sinn Féin MEP for Midlands North West outlined in a recent and far reaching article the “need to show to Unionism and those that identify as British that their accommodation and expression within a new, agreed united Ireland will be respected and guaranteed.” As the late Martin McGuiness said in the 2013 Sinn Féin Ard Fheis, “I am so confident in my Irishness that I have no desire to chip away at the Britishness of my neighbours.” This leads me on to my next aspect; the need for an outward looking, coherent, inclusive vision and strategy towards a united Ireland by all who advocate for it.
There is a wide ranging debate to be had in the coming years as the inevitably of a border poll looms. Sinn Féin has always led the way at the front of the united Ireland drive while others paid scamp attention to it. However, what we do welcome are the many political parties who before brushed it off are now paying firm attention to the very real fact that Irish unity is just over the horizon. Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, Labour and the SDLP have all joined the party and that is a good thing. All those political parties and groups within civic society who recognise the massive benefits of Irish Unity have to be on board in the upcoming debate surrounding a united Ireland. As Matt Carthy stated in his piece, the need to be imaginative in the debate ahead is a must. The place of Stormont within a united Ireland, the accommodation and equality of Unionism, the economy, the need for progressive national front line services such as health and education, a proper welfare system that cares for the most vulnerable are all key aspects in the coming debate and one which we in Sinn Féin are committed towards. We have recently produced a document outlined ‘Towards a United Ireland’. We challenge others to outline their visions of a united Ireland also. It’s also imperative that the Irish government starts the process of an Irish re-unification white paper to lay the ground for the time ahead. Our image of a united Ireland is an inclusive one which enshrines the coming together of Catholic, Protestant, Dissenter, Nationalist, Republican, Unionist, Loyalist, ethnic minorities, our LGBT community and all those various groups which make up our Irish society.
The debate has already begun; it’s in its early stages and will expand within the coming years stretching across Ireland north and south. As republicans, our long held dream of a united Ireland has never been as close. It’s there for the taking but we have to ensure that we mobilise, organise, unite and educate to ensure that re-unification is shaped on the aspirations laid out in the 1916 Proclamation!
Credit to Sean Bateson