Donegal faces majority decision bordering on the complicated


NEWTON'S OPTIC:AS FOREIGN affairs spokesman for the Portadown Unionist Party, I would like to thank the Irish Government for inviting us to make this pre-budget submission. We were a little surprised to be asked, but we are always happy to assist our neighbours in a spirit of mutual respect, writes NEWTON EMERSON

As I understand it, the Republic needs to find immediate annual savings of €4 billion. Using standard investment criteria, this equates to a net present value of €70 billion. If the Republic could sell something for €70 billion, it would be as good as saving €4 billion a year forever. We suggest that this something should be the county of Donegal.

Selling off national territory in times of economic hardship has a long and noble history, with examples such as the Alaska Purchase, the treaty of Brest-Litovsk - and however Charlie Haughey acquired Inishvickillane.

I believe that Northern Ireland would consider buying Donegal providing certain conditions were met and a small amount of work was done to tidy up the property. As unionists, we have a legitimate aspiration to a United Ulster encompassing all its historic territory within its natural frontiers. But we are not unreasonable people, so you can keep Co Monaghan. No, seriously. Keep it.

Of course a "Donegal Purchase" would have minor political ramifications. However, most concerns can be easily allayed. While republicans might object to the loss of territory, they should note that it will shorten the Border by about 80 miles, which is 80 miles more than they have ever managed.

It is possible that oil could be discovered off the coast of Donegal at some future date. However, southerners will get a much better deal if they have to cross the Border to buy it.

We do appreciate that the Gaeltacht has a special significance, which is why we are prepared to pretend to speak Irish while in Donegal in return for an appropriate discount. I think you will find that this replicates the present situation.

There are also issues to be addressed within Northern Ireland, or "the seven counties", as you may choose to call it.

Integrating Donegal into our political system could prove complicated, although the success of the Blaney family is a positive sign.

In Derry, just across the Foyle from Londonderry, people have long complained that they are cut off from their natural hinterland. If the Border is moved they will have to find something else to complain about, which could take several hours.

Acquiring Donegal would bring Northern Ireland close to a Catholic majority, except on summer weekends, when Northern Ireland brings Donegal close to a Protestant majority.

It would be up to the rest of us to persuade Donegal Catholics that they are better off as a sizeable minority within the North than as a tiny minority within the South. Fortunately, this argument is known to be highly persuasive.

Failing that, the Catholic population of Donegal will simply melt away, like the Protestant population of Co Cork. Nobody knows exactly how this melting occurs, but it is apparently quite harmless and almost entirely voluntary, only ever involving a handful of regrettable incidents.

I realise that this submission will not be universally popular within the 25 counties. However, I think you will find that it still makes more sense than any of Sinn Féin's proposals.