Sunday, 18 February 2007

Towards a United Ireland

Response to an article by Niall Gormley (Let's Make the Unionists an Offer) published in The Northside People (7 February, 2007).

Niall Gormley is drawing incorrect conclusions, albeit from certain correct premises in his piece of 7th February ('Let’s Make the Unionists an Offer'). He talks about promising that ‘a functioning Northern Ireland would never be dismantled’ in order to re-assure unionists. But when is the last time Northern Ireland functioned? Why does it still fail to function eight years on from the Good Friday Agreement? And is it simply a matter or re-assuring unionists? What about those who dissent from the unionist agenda? Are they to be stripped of their political rights and deprived of their voice - again?

As a matter of fact it can be observed that unionists are beginning to question the long-term viability of a Northern Ireland entity particularly in view of the sustained electoral growth of Sinn Fein. Consequently Ian Paisley Jnr speaks not against a united Ireland per se but ‘the type of united Ireland that republicans envisage’? Listen carefully the next time you hear him being interviewed.

Furthermore even so-called ‘hard line’ elements of unionism (Willie McCrea for example) in their public comments are not expressing opposition to the changes that are in the pipeline. Rather they are stating a view that they would like to see changes deferred for a political generation. Maybe it’s all just a ruse but maybe it really is the beginning of a sea-change.

Surely it is no longer sabre-rattling to suggest that Northern Ireland is a failed political entity. This has been observed in practice at least since the time of the Civil Rights Movement but also in more recent times following on from the IRA ceasefires, the Good Friday Agreement and now IRA decommissioning.

Of course Niall Gormley is right when he says that the formulation centred around ‘united Ireland’ is somewhat vague. As a matter of fact for years the standard old battle-cry used to be more along the lines of a ‘united, independent, sovereign, 32 county, maybe socialist (depending on your view) but definitely republic’. This rendition has been quietly dropped in recent years, probably because it irks certain people with a certain disposition to speak in this way. When cold war paranoia operated across the globe there was a fear (perhaps genuinely held) that Ireland could become Britain’s Cuba if the wrong sort of people ever gained too much influence.

Today the task devolves to the Irish and British governments (calling on the support of the international community where necessary) to manage the transition towards a political re-unification on the island of Ireland that will best accommodate all sections of Irish people. This accommodation will of course be bound by the limits of what is practical and reasonable in the prevailing circumstances. But it must always be open to subsequent review. This is in line with democratic principle.

It only serves to debase politics (by negating the role of the individual) if the problem of reaching a settlement is posed in terms of cynical political horse-trading, carving out political fiefdoms etc, etc.

11th February, 2007

Copyright © Oscar Ó Dúgáin, 2007

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