It is understandable why no Unionist politician can take part in any discussion about what form a United Ireland might take. They would be portrayed by their Unionist opponents not as self-confident defenders of the Unionist people, reasoning with Nationalists on why a UI would be unacceptable, but as weaklings already conceding the inevitability of a UI.
But that should not hinder any non-party Unionist from doing so. Indeed, it is desirable to reason with our Nationalist fellow-citizens, and the Irish nation as a whole, in order to fully understand the concerns and aspirations of each other.
The case for remaining out of a UI has changed somewhat from that of the founding fathers of NI. Gone is the downside of a Roman Catholic, priest-ridden State. And gone too is the upside of a thriving industrial economy in the North.
What now deters Unionists from considering a union with the Irish Republic?
The prime concern for most Unionists is the Gaelic nature of the present ROI, and that being carried over into a UI. That is, the underlying assumption that being Irish is in effect being Gaelic. The ethnic British in ROI do not have a share in the myth of the nation, except as remnants of the invaders. No mutual respect of origins exists. A defeated foe, welcomed to remain if they behave themselves.
That is not a UI that any self-respecting Unionist could consider voting for. So what sort of Ireland might be acceptable to them? Something like the following might at least gain a respectful hearing.
Consider the advance we made in getting agreement on governing NI after such a bitter conflict. The Belfast Agreement sought to reassure both communities here that the government we formed could not be used to damage either community. Mutual vetoes were built in to prevent any one community majority overruling a minority. Cross-community majorities are required on contentious issues. That was a massive confidence builder. Then too, power-sharing provided rights and responsibilities to both communities.
Rather than devolving government to regions to accommodate Unionist concerns, a power-sharing central government in a future UI, with mutual vetoes for both the British and Gaelic communities, would be ideal.
That's the practicalities of governance with cross-community confidence.
But the identity of each community with the State, with the new nation that arises with a UI, is a crucial issue too. What could be done to improve the feeling of joint nationhood with the Irish in a UI? A couple of ideas: firstly, to identify the new nation as a combination of the previous two, not a submersion of one into the other. The title of the new state might be ‘The British and Gaelic Republic of Ireland', allowing for a new meaning to the term ‘Irish'. Or ‘The British and Irish Republic of Ireland', but that complicates the old sense of Irish with the new one.
A new anthem would be required, celebrating the union, rather than celebrating the old conflict.
A new flag would be appropriate, given the baggage the present Tricolour has for Unionists. Perhaps replacing the orange with blue, denoting the Ulster Scots roots of many Unionists, and fully acceptable to all Unionists as representing them.
Finally, a consideration about the large number of Evangelical Protestants in NI. They are a minority among Unionists, but an important one.
The Most important consideration for Christian Unionists will be guarantees of civil and religious liberty. That used to be important for most Unionists, but the growing number of secular Unionists seem not to be concerned about it, or even dismissive of it. The failure by them to give assurances that prayer and counsel would not be included in any ban on gay conversion therapy is indicative of that.
If a UI would have a robust guarantee of civil and religious liberty, that would remove a strong concern for the many Unionists who are Christians.
You Nationalists/Republicans can't make Unionists discuss these matters, but you could ponder on the possibilities, some of which I raise here, and respond honestly. No need to fear your objections would antagonise the Unionists – we are already antagonised and expect the worst from you in a UI.
⏭Ian Major grew up a heathen Protestant, was converted at 17. He lives out his Evangelical faith as a Baptist.