Unity: closer than anyone thinks

Moya St Leger argues that Irish citizens remain unprepared for unity. It is a slightly modified version of a piece that initially featured in the Irish Democrat on 17 May 2007 and which the author has allowed TPQ to carry. Moya St Leger was the Connolly Association president for the period 2002-2008.

IRELAND COULD unite within ten years. All the indicators suggest as much. These include the steady demographic shift in the North; the assurance of Her Majesty's Government that Britain has "no selfish strategic or economic interest" in Northern Ireland; the pledge of both the Irish and British governments to support legislation to bring about a united Ireland if both parts of Ireland vote in favour of it, and the fact that political obstacles have been removed to this end.

Yet in the Irish Republic, at home, in the office, on the street, in bars and restaurants, in cabs and buses, not a word is said. Ninety years after the Easter rising - republicans excepted - a nation remains resolutely silent on the one historical imperative for which their forebears fought and died.

There is some talk of a united Ireland in the North but virtually none in the Republic. This has been noted by the Connolly Association. Since an end to partition is closer than it has ever been, in London we have been swapping our own theories on why so few in Ireland wish to comment.

In Dublin recently, a brilliant young film-maker was unequivocal in her view: "United Ireland? You can keep the north. We don't want those troublemakers," she said.

Understandable. Twenty-five years of bombing and shooting in the north caused people in the Republic to draw back in fright and distance themselves from their northern neighbours. Nationalism became associated with violence, so republicans were banned from radio and TV, and military parades at Easter abandoned.

Hostile media coverage of the IRA campaign mimicked the biased reporting in the British media. The representation of the IRA as a bunch of depraved criminals, whose thuggery bore no historical resemblance to the armed struggle of the 'old IRA', suited certain political elements in the Republic who were nervous of Sinn Fein's all-Ireland focus.

The unremitting anti-republicanism of the mainstream Irish media left no room for dispassionate political analysis and debate. The respectful stance of successive Irish governments vis-à-vis Britain persuaded the Irish that any talk of a united Ireland was tantamount to siding with terrorists.

People were led to believe there was a moral gulf between the 'old IRA' who fought in the war of independence and the Provos, as if a fundamentally different moral standard could be applied to the Soloheadbeg ambush of the RIC in 1919 and the mortar attack on the Newry RUC police station in 1979.

This schizophrenic attitude became the default mindset of the majority. It led to reluctance in the south to acknowledge the north as part of a country with shared ancient Irish roots present before the colonial period. A casualty of this disconnection is the younger generation, who grew up with no strong feelings about the border.

Another young Dubliner, an IT consultant, summed it up. "The north isn't our concern. Let the politicians get on with whatever they're doing, we've got better things to do with our time". He admitted to having little interest in Irish history. The tales of a handful of over-nineties reminiscing about the 1920s in country snugs never reached the ears of the Celtic Tiger generation hanging out in their trendy bars in the cities.

Now the Celtic Tiger is dead and the Irish of the Republic have seen their dreams shattered by having blindly nailed the Irish tricolour to the EU mast, Sinn Fein is increasing its TDs in the Dail, and Gerry Adams TD gaining influence in the Republic with his relentless unification campaign. Adams has clearly seen that relying on the Good Friday Agreement to produce constitutional change is not enough.

The under-forties in the Republic cannot empathize with the powerful emotions and zeal which fuelled the war of independence and the civil war. Never having experienced British hegemony, they see no point in challenging the status of the north, even less in discussing it.

Undeterred by the nation's waning interest, Albert Reynolds an astute businessman turned politician, who had never let the border impede his commercial activities, decided the conflict had to end.

By entering into talks with British Prime Minister John Major, the Taoiseach risked his political career in an effort "to overcome the legacy of history and to heal the divisions".

The seismic movement of the political ground triggered by the Reynolds-Major talks resulted in the Downing Street Declaration of 1993. Five years later, the multi-party Good Friday agreement received the consent of 94.39 per cent in the Republic.

Some Protestants in Northern Ireland's business community already locked into the global economy are wondering whether unification would be such a bad thing after all - provided they can keep their British passports!

The grindingly slow process agreed by the British and Irish governments of creating a stable Northern Ireland should not impede a nationwide debate in the whole of Ireland about the country's future. Adams is right to encourage that debate. He of all people knows the British will not discourage it because a national debate within the whole of Ireland accords with the unstated British long view that ultimately sovereignty of the north will have to be surrendered for chiefly economic reasons.

The state visit of the Queen to Ireland in 2011 was no courtesy visit. It signified the Crown's formal acknowledgement of the Irish Republic.  One day a British monarch will be signing an Act of Parliament ceding the six remaining northern counties to the Republic.  The royal visit of 2011 laid the necessary foundation for that Act of Parliament.

Preparing the ground for a united Ireland is laborious and takes time. The constitutional issues are relatively straightforward, but it is not premature for the Irish people north and south to start talking about the daunting practicalities of unification and, crucially, who will fund it.

Accommodating six extra counties will pose a huge challenge for the Republic's institutions and the British civil servants eventually tasked with cooperation in the process. Public discussion is needed in Ireland on how to tackle uniting the administration, the judiciary, education and local government.

The merging of health care facilities and transport infrastructure, not to mention the replacement of sterling with the Euro (if it still exists) and all that entails, require meticulous forward planning. A national debate requires the input of ideas from professionals in all fields. Germany is still working on overcoming the epic obstacles of its unification 24 years later. It is an ongoing process.

A divided Ireland has not been written in stone and acting as if devolution is the end of the road, while being a diplomatic stance to adopt vis-a-vis. unionists, will not stem the inexorable tide of history.


  1. Moya St Leger-

    " Provided they can keep their British Passports "

    Yes who ever wants to keep a british passport or hold both Passports will always have that right-there will be union jacks flying in a United Ireland in some areas years after it happens as will be their right-[not sure what the wording of the new flag laws will be yet ]-

    The UDR is gone the RUC is gone/changing-the UVF-UFF-RHC have
    all decommissioned-there might be a bit of bother but hopefully the main opponents to a United Ireland will be the fleg protesters-and we know how bad at protesting they are-

  2. MH

    Thank Christ I'll not be here for your SF soft landing into a united Ireland.

    The Free State will do everything it can to avoid a confrontation with loyalism. No change there since the shelving of the border commission report and the selling of yer granny for 30 bits of silver, when partition was accepted in exchange for the writing off of imperial debts.

    Too busy down here getting ready to re-inflate the economy for the next instalment of boom + bust, Irish cute-hoor style, to be getting caught up in unprofitable nordy issues. It's nearly game on again, haven't you heard? The housing market has finally levelled out!

    Nordy taigs at this stage have their civil rights within the UK. And you have your wee meaningless jobs. All you need now is those damn Orange bigots kept away from your private property. Job done! So forget about the border poll. Peter the Punt was under estimated by you lot MH.

  3. Not sure I agree with it all but the point of our pending unpreparedness is right on!
    Larryo is right, the free-staters will do all they can to avoid any conflict since they forgot what their fathers had been fighting for (by and large). But I do get the chance to discuss the issue with many across our nation and the feeling I get, from the under 30's and the over 50's and all between, is the interest in securing re-unification is as strong as ever with a great many, usually the ordinary working people.
    michaelh, could you clarify for us, just where the UDR and RUC have gone to?

  4. Larry-

    It is all wee buns-

    Peter the punt could not keep his better half under him never mind being under estimated by my lot-he is on his way out and dodds does not want to take over now-Sammy has ran to London with his clothes-
    jnr paisley has not got a chance in hell and wee Jeffery and foster still have the whiff of the UUP about them-we destroyed the UUP the fathers of Unionism-I think the same will happen to the DUP-

  5. Michaelhenry,

    it was republicanism you destroyed!!

  6. The sad fact of life is, There are as many Immigrants as Irish, Most of those Immigrants are now Irish Citizens, They might have read about the Recent war in the North, but that's about all, even if a So Called Border Poll was won, We all know the Unionists will not be sitting on their backsides awaiting for a United Ireland to Happen, They will be well armed and ready for "No Surrender", althought it would be a democratic vote by the whole nation, they would resist to the end, or , eventualy go to scotland (if it doesn't get its indipendence) , or , England.
    Facts are Facts and have to be looked at and weighed up in anticipation of such a threat. We must also be armed to defend our districts, because if we aren't it will be going back in time because the RUC/PSNI will not defend any nationalists areas in such an event, neither would most of the R.I.Regiments (British Army). There are those of us who marched for civil rights , attacked by loyalists and B-specials/R.U.C. whilst The Devil himself, Paisley Sen was shouting "Kill The Fenian Bastards" at Burntollet Bridge.

    This is off subject, sorry Anthony.

    Can you please click the link below and sign the petition for Relatives of Justice Regarding The British unelected Norn Iron Secretary Of State and the Chief Cunstable going to the high court to have documents returned , and , or , that they should not be put into public domain Until they have been redacted ("They Already Were In The Public Domain through a freedom of Information act") .

    Relatives for justice petition

  7. Is right Mackers, Mickey it's time you woke up to the reality that Sinn Fein now inhabits the political ground once held by the SDLP - your politics, constitutional position and analysis of the conflict in Ireland are now inseparable from that party. Thus why you now occupy the position of majority nationalist party in the six-counties. We did not convert people to republicanism - this does not explain the rise in votes. Rather it can be explained by the conversion of republicanism to constitutional, establishment politics. As Anthony has been saying for years this process involved including republicans while excluding republicanism. One thing is right about that article though - the 1998 legislation will NEVER deliver a reunified Ireland, as Larry has said the Unionists seen us coming a mile away. Things may grate with them because of their historical position of marked superiority evaporating in front of their eyes (a big thank you to the IRA for helping bring that about) but they are comfortable with the constitutional end of things. A united Ireland in 10 years? Not a chance unless something big changes and certainly not if Sinn Fein persists with their bogus plans for a border poll to deliver manna from heaven

  8. sorry about the above link, The html does not allow http protocol . so please copy and paste this into your browser address bar.


  9. Sean Bres:

    Mickey doesn't know what reality means, Just like the rest of the SF carpet beggars.
    Lining their pockets, setting up new 1916 societies! , changing venues of Republican commemorations to suit their own aims, Yet demonise proper Republicans for having a proper and true Anti Internment march , of which most posters on TPQ know, is still in force to this very day, and SF turns a blind eye to it, Until one of their own is lifted, then the morons are bused in to protest, all expenses paid plus a free pint back at the club, whilst the high echelon of SF have secret talks with the Chief "CUNSTABLE" for the release of one of theirs. can SF get any Britisher?, No, they are being paid the the British Government, that is those in the Norn Iron, That's something they can never deny. This sticks in my mind, and makes me sick, McGuinness , "DON'T LEAVE COMRADES, WE WILL LEAD YOU TO THE REPUBLIC" , He omitted to mention you have to either get a train/bus/, or , drive to it from the wee 6c to get there,
    Rule Britannia with SF.

  10. Michaelhenry

    Peace centre/museum at the Maze/Kesh? Not gunna happen.

    Told you Peter the punt had your card marked. Bend over and touch your toes for Peter ...


  11. I think the opposition to the Peace Centre at Long Kesh is symbolic of a vocal, sizable and powerful section of Unionism's intransigence and their desire not just to be separate from the 26 counties but to be separate from Nationalists and Republicans in the North.

    On the Peace Centre itself, I wouldn't be surprised if the listed buildings on the site get bulldozed either legally or illegally. Even without political differences we cannot forget that the 6 counties is the place where historically important buildings and archaeological and natural sites are fair game so what chance for the Long Kesh Site?

    I am sure in the future we can visit Robben Island, Alcatraz and the empty space where Long Kesh prison used to be. And chances are it'll be in a partitioned Ireland.

  12. Curiously Simon I was thinking the same, which may go some way, when it happens, to show SF they lost the war and those they support will continue feeding off their peace.