Irish Unity Is Better For All

Patrick Donohoe, a former Organiser with the 1916 Societies and current Secretary of the Séan Heuston Society in Dublin, argues that a united Ireland is the best possible outcome. 

‘If they don’t like it, let them go back to Britain.’ Those were the words of the first member of the audience to speak in a recent joint RTÉ/BBC debate on the virtues of a United Ireland titled ‘Ireland’s Call’. Having looked forward to the debate and to the respective polls from each side of the border, with confidence it would illuminate that our One Ireland One Vote strategy presents the only credible means to achieve Irish Unity (because the British rushing to the ports of their own volition is unlikely anytime soon), no sooner had those words left her mouth than I cringed.

Having said that, most other contributors from the audience were excellent and put forward a host of worthy arguments in favour, including that in a United Ireland unionists would hold 20 percent of the vote in an all-Ireland election, thus being well-positioned to share power in a prospective coalition government in a 32-County Republic. Given their centre-right politics it’s not something necessarily to be encouraged but nonetheless, it shows they might not have as much to fear from unity as they imagine. As expected though, given it was RTÉ hosting the debate, they laboured on the first woman’s point at the expense of the other contributions. To be honest though, the lady who made those unfortunate comments reflects a section of republicanism who frequent social media sites shouting slogans, which in itself is grand but needs something substantive behind it. You have an ideal; you want people to endorse and pro-actively subscribe to it; so you need to effectively sell it to people.

One only has to look to Scotland, where for years various misconceptions were regurgitated that it couldn’t possibly ‘go it alone’. They had nothing going for them and were welfare junkies to England. The Barnett formula, the mechanism whereby the UK Treasury allocates the level of public spending for Scotland, Wales and the North of Ireland, was constantly evoked as the epitome of why Scotland was a welfare-whore, unable to stand on its own two feet. Polls showed support between 25-30 percent at the start of the campaign for Scottish independence, but a small matter of facts almost scuppered the pro-Union argument.

Debates on the streets, in town halls and on television dispelled urban myths that had been perpetuated for decades, as Scots learned that an independent Scotland would be per capita one of the richest in the world. Far from a welfare-junkie of England, Scotland spends £1200 more per head than the rest of the UK, affording citizens cheaper university education and free prescription drugs for all. At the same time it contributes £1700 more per head to the UK Exchequer than its other contributors, effectively losing out on £500 per person which could be spent on its own people. While it wasn’t enough to take them over the line they made a remarkable comeback all the same, especially given the near-entire disdain of the mainstream media for the independence movement.

And so to Ireland. At the time of partition the newly formed 26-county state was an economic basket case with an economy rooted in agriculture – partition having cut off the industrialised north-east, where standards of living had been comparative to anywhere in the United Kingdom, from the rest of the country. At the time it was an industrial powerhouse and yet today, almost a century on from partition, they’re 20 percent below the UK average. Over the same period standards of living on the other side of the border have increased twenty-fold (as compared to the North’s five). So when you couple what is an evident economic retraction in the North with how polarised society there has become, it is surely an irredeemable fact that partition has failed the people of the Six Counties on every level.

In his paper ‘Making the Economic Case for a United Ireland’ economist Michael Burke breaks it down into simple arithmetic. In 2013, the 26-county state produced $210 billion, with the six-county economy producing $50 billion over the same period. So in a unified all-Ireland economy the scope for a home market increases for the 26-counties by 25 percent and for the North by 400 percent. In the company I work for we don’t do any business in the Six Counties. It’s paying into two tax-codes’ for businesses and some, including the one I work for, don’t feel it’s worth the hassle. Burke also argues that since the 26-counties removed itself from the domineering control of Britain it has integrated itself more into the world economy. The same cannot be said of the six-county economy and this is glaringly evident in its ‘external sales’ (exports) which amounted to a paltry €14.3 billion per annum as compared terms to €89 billion in the 26-six counties.

An important misconception tackled by Burke is the myth of the £10 billion sterling annual subvention from Britain, supposedly to keep the Six Counties afloat. Just as Scotland’s Block Grant under Barnett didn’t stack up under scrutiny, neither does the alleged subvention of £10 billion to the North. Burke, citing recent data from the ONS, showed that each household in the Six Counties (from a total number of 739,000) receives an extra £982 in state awards, including NHS contributions, than what they pay in taxes and rates, making the subvention approximately £700 million and not the £10 billion stated. If the latter were true it would make the Six Counties one of the richest states in the world on a per capita basis, whereas the economic data relating to its economy shows this is certainly not the case.

The economic arguments for Irish Unity stack up then and can run concurrent with those relating to the undemocratic nature of partition of itself, imposed as it was under duress and against the wishes of the people. That said, we should not be waiting for the ghost of James Connolly to return and can’t be living in the graveyards. While we have a great past littered with Martyrs that we rightly commemorate, we have to remember the past and not live in it. We need to live republicanism on our streets and in our communities, utilising modern forms of communication (such as social media) more intelligently, making our project and our ideas relevant to ordinary people on the street.

In terms of polls, time and again they have proven favourable to our argument and yet some maintain the South doesn’t want the North. All polls, even those designed to inhibit arguments for unity, indicate this to be false. I can say conclusively there has never been a poll in the 26-counties where a clear majority have not expressed their desire for reunification. In the Ireland’s Call programme, only 14 percent in the 26-counties said they didn’t want to see a United Ireland in their lifetime – a remarkable figure in line with other similarly run polls. With ‘don’t knows’ excluded, only 40 percent in the North wanted to see a United Ireland in their lifetime, which although a disappointment is nevertheless encouraging given there has been no real debate on the matter. Just as in Scotland, once misconceptions are tackled in a meaningful debate we could see a swing in our favour.

RTÉ, being RTÉ, tried to swing things in a negative direction, asking if people were to pay more taxes would they still want to see Irish Unity. They may as well have asked would they like a kick to the genitals. It’s a negative question begging a negative answer, which they seemed to revel in. Interestingly, this was the only question were ‘don’t knows’ weren’t shown. Why not? The show also included polls on social issues, presenting near-identical numbers on either side of the border. Though it wasn’t touched on, unsurprisingly, this indicates that despite partition and regardless of what side of the border people are on, no matter how the likes of RTÉ might try and implant partitionist mindsets, we remain a homogeneous people despite divisions carefully fostered by an alien government, as first made mention of in the 1916 Proclamation.

Given the inherent media attitude to reunification and republicanism in general, it is important we make the argument for unity about more than the simple liberation of the North. Our effort must be to liberate the country as a whole. To realise the goals and ideals of Irish republicanism we must address the perception they relate only to freeing the Six Counties, projecting the reunification of this country as an island-wide project to transform the country as a whole. Without the strangling effect of the border, with an estimated boost of €36 billion accruing to an all-Ireland economy over 8 years following harmonisation of tax and the breaking down of trade barriers on the island (study by Dr Kury Hubner, University of British Colombia, November 2015), we would be well positioned to bring about a new and vibrant self-sustaining Ireland – not an extension of the 26-county entity I live in today.

We are promoting something that deep down the vast majority on this island aspires to. But with that in mind, we might ask ourselves why is it republicanism can be seen in such a negative light. Is it because its proponents are not presenting the message correctly? We’ve allowed ourselves to be pigeon-holed as angry, irrational, apolitical, anti-British reactionaries, with no argument to offer that would benefit wider society and the country as a whole. The antidote is to forward a coherent and transparent argument in favour of unity that can resonate with ordinary people. The information is there to be used and show how we could all live in a more prosperous country if we worked together within an all-Ireland framework, to the betterment of all of our people. The partition of what is a small island on the periphery of Europe has failed. It could never work to begin with, we’re too small an entity, and Ireland will never reach its full potential, economically, culturally and socially, until we end it.

Nelson Mandela once said, ‘let your choices be defined by your hopes and not your fears’. As republicans we must give that hope to our people and we have the tools to do it. We know a majority on the island aspire to unity but we won’t progress until we articulate the message better than we have thus far. This year of all years presents an opportunity to challenge the misconceptions, to present the argument for a new Ireland where the Proclamation exists as reality, not an afterthought from the past. That’s the best way to commemorate 1916 and the immortal words of Pearse at the GPO, which carry our hopes and aspirations for a free and better Ireland, for all of our people and for which we still strive to this day.


  1. Unsurprisingly, this entire article does absolutely nothing to address Ulster Unionist concerns in the 6 counties. Simply saying there is an economic case for a United Ireland reduces Unionists to being nothing but slaves to money, and completely ignores the fact that they see themselves as British.

    Why would ANY political party give up territory where it is in the majority, to move into a scenario where they would be in a minority desperately hoping to have a say with 20% of the vote?

    This being the Centenary year of the Rising this comes across as just another appeal to emotion. Hatred of Partition and ideological ignorance of it does not change it's actuality.

    If Republicans want a United Ireland get back to your Socialist roots, work together with the working class across the divide and try to show them Republicans are humans too, and not some 'thirsty for proddy blood' monsters.

    Because at the minute, they hold all the cards.

  2. Steve, are there any circumstances in which you could envisage unionists feeling comfortable and 'belonging' in a United Ireland? It's not a rhetorical question as I'm genuinely interested in your opinion.

    My own vision for a United Ireland is one where power is shared out rather than centralised in a unitary state. Should that mean the Six Counties continuing as a self-governing entity within a new Ireland then I could live with that no problem, though I would argue that Donegal, Cavan and Munster should rejoin them in an Ulster Parliament for all the Ulster people - not to limit unionism in number but because it would make sense from a regional perspective (especially in relation to Donegal, which has been isolated between the waves of Atlantic and the Border for near-on a century, cut-off from its natural hinterland as a result of partition and its outworking).

    I understand that the Ulster Protestants see themselves as British and hold that identity. But they are also Irish, even Paisley considered and knew himself to be an Irishman. I feel we will need constitutional guarantees themselves to be inviolable , in some form of 'Charter of Rights', that protect the minority tradition if we are to gain the trust of Ulster Protestants in a United Ireland.

    I hope we can do that as for me you are an important part of this country with plenty to offer. To borrow from and subvert the UK line in the Scottish indyref, we are 'stronger together'.

    Ta Power said, 'we must be able to inject into the struggle, or rather, call forth from the people the values and ideals of solidarity, self-sacrifice, non-sectarianism, unity and internationalism, values that transcend our own individual existence, that lead to greater awareness, greater participation, and greater aliveness in oneself. We must be somehow able to grip the mass of people if we are to change the world'. I'm not sure if we can do all that apart but it is in keeping us apart that imperialism continues to thrive at our expense.

    I realise this is an economic argument and you've sought to deal with identity but 700 people are on waiting lists in London, a population of 20 million. 7,000 are on waiting lists here in the Six Counties, with a population of more than ten times less. And people feel there is advantage in the Union. We have got to realise that we would be better together, determining as one our own future.

  3. Sean
    As I have said to you before I have moved 360 degrees from where I was during the Troubles. I am now proud to call myself Irish and I am no longer opposed to a UI. I am for now an economic unionist and I don't think you have a case to make on the financial benefits of a UI. We are better off with Britain. However many unionists still oppose any notion of a UI for reasons of identity and this is where traditional republicanism is doing its cause no favours. Bombs under cars, men in masks and combats reading statements in graveyards, opposition to orange parades etc make many unionists diametrically opposed to any notion of unity. I would also argue that does you no favours in the 26 either. What's left of traditional republicanism needs to have a long hard look at itself and ask some difficult questions. You need to get rid of the 'armed groups' and militarism. You need to build bridges with the prod working class. The PUP would be a great place to start (although that might mean allowing them to walk past Ardoyne shops a couple of time a year). I believe that republicanism is a hindrance to a UI.

  4. The elephants in the room go unmentioned; A whole new generation of young protestant/unionists regard themselves as northern/ulster Irish ( check out Irish passport applications) - the increasing number who have learned Irish and are rediscovering our stunning ancient history. Even the 'die hard' unionists/Loyalists in their bones know that N.I. currently has no future - moral, economic, or political. Their 'British' paymasters want nothing to do with them. The lssons of Scotland and 16 year olds getting the vote here in future referendum(s)

  5. John
    The other elephant in the room is the increasing number of catholics who describe themselves as Northern Irish and who regularly tell pollsters that they don't want unity. I disagree also about the diehards. DUPers are very upbeat about the future of NI. As for this oft repeated remark that the British want nothing to do with us, I hear it a lot in debates on unity. I could also say that many in the 26 want nothing to do with northern Republicans. In fact history would show that many the south has continuously ignored the north since partition. There are not exactly vociferous in calling for unity, are they? Sean's original question was about how could unionists see themselves accepting unity. I see no desire from republicans to reach out to left leaning working class loyalists which leads me to believe that they are not serious about accomodating unionists in their new utopian Ireland.

  6. Peter, what would you like us to do uo accommodate you? If you don't tell us how can we consider it. I'd appreciate your input

  7. Sean
    With all due respect I don't need accomodated by traditional republicanism. I live in a totally unionist area but have no interest in orange parades or flute bands. I am pretty sure that NI will still exist when my turn to leave this world arrives, and I have no children so don't care what happens then. The 1916 Societies and the other micro groups hold no relevance for me, you are as distant as FG or FF. You struggle to stay relevant as you try to apply the same failed template again and again to the same immovable object. Traditional republicanism is divided and rudderless. You maybe have the support of 2 or 3 % of the north's population and even less in the south. But while you insist on the right to use physical force then you remain a threat. More so to your own people in terms of prison, feud killings etc than to the state or my community. So it is not that I need accomodated rather than what I would like to see you do. I would like all the micro groups to call a halt to their campaigns and to forgo the right to use force, as clearly the majority of Irish citizens want. I would then like you to reach out to the PUP and try to find some common ground. There are some great young people in the PUP (like Sophie Long) who share similar views to yourselves. If you are serious about welcoming unionism into any future UI then you should show some willingness to engage and compromise now. Personally I don't believe that republicans are serious about accomodating unionism and I see nothing from republicans that convinces me otherwise. Maybe the Societies could lead the way Sean.

  8. Sean,

    There would need to be a new constitution drawn up in the Republic specifically enshrining a complete separation of Church and State, coupled with assimilating all religious schools into a new National Schooling system. This would go some way to laying to rest the age old Unionist fear of being 'under the rule of Rome in Dublin'. All Churches want to get into the heads of kids early so they don't question later on. If this was seen to be a reality, the possibility of a UI becomes much more easier to consider for the Unionists, but this is predicated upon consent. As both you and I know, physical violence solves nothing but just creates new enemies.

    For Unionists, the economics of being a part of the UK is only a small part of it. They see themselves having loyally served the UK in the Armed Forces, with distinction in WW2 and other theaters, enjoying the same sport, following the same teams, sharing the humour and so on. They see themselves as entrenched in 'Britishness' as Winston Churchill.....but there is also a problem.

    They are acutely aware that the UK Government would shaft them in a heartbeat if they could, hence why they politik in the House of Commons to the 9th degree. With the way politics is going in Westminster they know they hold a powerful lobby group. So to try to tempt unionists from leaving the 6 counties and the inordinate say they have in UK politics to struggle for a '20%' say in a United Ireland is a tough sell. But there is a way.

    As Peter points out, the PUP have a strong socialist core and this will only get stronger. If Republicans want a UI then, as I said, you need to get back to your Socialist roots. Reach out to these people, and yes some of them would be 'Agents of the British State who were part of death squads', but don't forget that the IRA/SF to Protestants is/was viewed as utterly and completely sectarian hellbent on putting all prods to death also (they better learn to swim!). Rightly or wrongly, that's how the Republican movement was perceived.

    Imagine now if Erigi, of some other Republican organisation turned around and insisted that the Orange Marches went ahead (with respect) and they themselves marshaled the crowds, explaining that as Irishmen, the Orange Order had a right to their culture also. You would instantly get people suspicious but if you built up trust over the years the boogeyman becomes your friend. I know a lot of Loyalists who already have no problem calling themselves Irish, and indeed are learning Gaelic today.

    There is no easy way to a United Ireland, but building up trust over time is a far better bet than shoving a gun in peoples faces or ranting at institutional bodies at perceived injustices.

    But sadly, given our history, calm rational debate and trust building is all to often hijacked by fear-mongers, bigots, zealots and the corrupt.

    Still, can't hurt to try.

  9. Peter your maths don't add up...

    "As I have said to you before I have moved 360 degrees from where I was during the Troubles. "

    If you have moved 360 degrees then you have surely come full circle and are back to where you started...

    Then you say "I am now proud to call myself Irish and I am no longer opposed to a UI. I am for now an economic unionist"

    Again I really don't understand how you claim to be Irish, yet call yourself a Unionist, an economical one. But a Unionist never the less.

    Short Q. Is why not drop the Unionist part and be Irish.

  10. Frankie,

    Why can't Peter be both Irish and an Ulster Unionist?

    'Irish' in this instance would be a ethnic cultural identity, and Unionist would be a political leaning. Not all Irish people are Republicans or Constitutional Nationalists, so I don't really understand what you mean?

    And you know perfectly well he may have made an honest error and meant to say 180 degrees.

  11. Thanks for the replies, especially yourself Steve, found that really useful. The demand for a fully secular society is instantly agreeable and likewise the proposal for 'integrated' education. There is no reason why that could not be achieved. I'm more thinking about whether you would want to retain the right to a British passport or for the North to remain self-governing within an all-Ireland republic, that sort of thing (both of which present no issue as far as I'm concerned). I would like to see a shift away from the centralised state towards regional decision-making bodies with real powers, all under the umbrella of a secular constitution which guarantees the public interest as first priority of the state. Some sort of 'Universal Bill of Rights' should provide civic protection for all persons, regardless of class, creed, race, sexual orientation, etc, giving secure protection to those who fear that they could end up being dominated or discriminated against. Consensual systems of government should also be embraced to the fullest extent, with the politics of inclusion replacing the adversarial system common to many western liberal democracies. That would be useful to me in ensuring a peaceful Ireland and that's ultimately what we all want. I would certainly value unionism's consent but I can't agree it should be afforded a veto. For me this invades the right to self-determination and is unjust and undemocratic. That's another conversation and I'm off to the scratcher here, half five comes early. Just one other thing, I would gladly meet with PUP representatives or anyone else from the unionist community if they were agreeable. It would be no problem at all. Chat tomorrow evening maybe, I've a piece going up which challenges the principle of consent and its legitimacy, so you might find it of interest. You'll most likely not agree with its thrust but sure that's half the craic on here anyway. Thanks again

  12. Steve,

    an honest error indeed but he should have told us he was reading the Gerry Adams Guide To Economics. That is where that sort of error occurs frequently enough

  13. Sean,

    No problems,happy to discuss ideas. Look forward to your next piece.


    The Shinners pockets are well lined in Stormont, does anybody know what a TD makes in comparison? The loathsome DUP seem to do alright too.

    Maybe the Shinners are closet 'economic unionists'! LOL