In a recent interview with Simon Carswell of The Irish Times — speaking alongside fellow loyalists Winston Irvine, Jackie McDonald and Sammy Douglas — Rob Williamson, a coordinator with the Reach project in East Belfast, was quoted saying, ‘Sinn Féin and others who want a border poll in Northern Ireland on Irish unification haven’t told people what a united Ireland even entails’.
Williamson, for sure, is right that what a United Ireland entails needs determined — so everyone, including the Ulster Protestant minority on Ireland, know where they stand in the event of Irish Unity. The problem is that the 32-county forum it would require to map such out cannot be stood in advance and makes such a task, therefore, a practical impossibility.
For now, at least — likely until we’ve already arrived at Irish Unity and the ‘sovereign united Ireland’ the current ‘legal’ position (set out under the British-Irish Agreement) demands of an Irish Unity scenario — there is no political means for it to be stood as anything other than a consultative initiative of the Dublin Government, bound entire within its own legal sphere.
That is not to say that Dublin should not attempt towards such a forum but to unearth the reality that, absent political input from the Six Counties — absent a national conversation indeed — the impact of such an initiative, and its ability to forward a concrete proposal that can be authoritatively argued for as the national consensus, will have been undermined at its beginning.
The absence of an ability to map the form of a future United Ireland is not due to failings on the part of Dublin, or any other party on the Irish side, including Sinn Féin (explicitly cited by Williamson). It is the result of political constraints entrenched within the Good Friday Agreement, which upholds Britain’s claim to sovereignty in the North and ensures, thus, that what a United Ireland is to entail not only needn’t be discussed but that it won’t be discussed, with unionism simply refusing to discuss it for fear of undermining the status quo.
In this environment, interim to Irish Unity itself, the best that can be done on the part of Irish nationalism is not to make unionism’s argument for it, as is being foolishly attempted, but to uphold the position that any future United Ireland, while its governmental basis will need to be determined, must entail as its basic starting point that Ireland, as one, will be a sovereign independent state, free to determine her own affairs without external impediment.
If we cannot (outside our own private positions) offer Williamson and his community greater detail as to the form a United Ireland will assume, which they deserve, we can at least ensure that this much is understood and by all concerned — that Irish Unity involves, fundamentally, the end of the Union and the constitution of a sovereign united Ireland, as already set out under binding international treaty.