AS I SEE IT
Little things sometimes say a lot. Like the way someone mentioned the other day that they were going on holiday to Ireland. Good plan, yes, but the odd thing about it was that the person involved comes from the North of Ireland. To this individual the 26 counties are seen as a different country and there are plenty of people in Ulster who think like that, not necessarily those who have voted Unionist in the Northern Assembly elections on May 5
Like many of us here in the South, Northerners are in favour of a united Ireland, but not just yet, thank you. It’s too early and it’s hard to see how the arrangement might work in practical and financial terms isn’t it? According to a survey carried out earlier this month only 30% of those surveyed in the North want a united Ireland now but a third would be in favour in 10 to 15 year’s time. Aspirations are similar here and like our Northern counterparts our main concerns are around issues like the rising cost of living and the state of the health service. But emotionally and sometime in the future it doesn’t make sense for most to have one of our four green fields cut off by a border.
So we need change over the next a decade or a decade and a half before we are ready to embrace a united island. Having lived both sides of the Border I believe that trying to rush the issue and hold a border poll — as some nationalists and Sinn Fein in particular want to do is unwise at this point, would raise Unionist hackles and delay unification.
Back in the day in the aftermath of the Troubles I reported on an experiment where schoolboys from the Protestant Shankill in the North were brought down to visit a school in Shankill in Co. Dublin. Initially the atmosphere was tense, the Northern lads had never been south much, less to a Catholic school. Then the facilitator asked which football teams the two groups supported and which trainers they were wearing? A forest of hands went up for Manchester United and Nikes and the ice was broken. The group became one.
We need more cross-Border initiatives like the ‘Shared Island’ projects for infrastructure, tourism and climate action. We need more co-operation — look at the madness of having two different sets of rules operating between North and South during Covid. We can look at what can be learnt from institutions operating on an all-Ireland basis, in business, sport and the church what can we share and save by doing so.
On the one hand duplication in a small island doesn’t seem to make economic sense, on the other there is the question of how much it would cost to take on the North where the British subvention runs to £10billion a year and a quarter of all employees in the North’s less dynamic economy work in the public service.
The cost element is one of the factors that makes people say ‘not yet’ when it comes to a united Ireland. More optimistic estimates put the cost of unity much lower when the benefits pay off. For instance, North South trade has increased dramatically since Brexit, a symptom of the way relations are beginning to normalise outside the political sphere. The more we share the less that Border will matter.
And let’s forget our shared attitudes: a majority in the North wanted to remain in the EU. And can you imagine Northerners agreeing with Boris Johnson’s latest wheeze to ship cross -channel refugees off to Rwanda rather than offering sanctuary to 20,000 Ukrainians as we have done here?