Colm Tóibín says some Protestants in North regard Republic as ‘strange and foreign place’

‘I think the question to ask people is: How much more tax would you pay to fund Northern Ireland?’

Colm Tóibín’s latest novel, The Magician, is an imagined recreation of the life of the German novelist Thomas Mann. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Colm Tóibín’s latest novel, The Magician, is an imagined recreation of the life of the German novelist Thomas Mann. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill


Novelist Colm Tóibín has said some Protestants in Northern Ireland regard the Republic as “a very strange and foreign place”.

Speaking on RTÉ Radio 1’s The Brendan O’Connor Show on Saturday, Tóibín said that what he called a “united Ireland solution” had not been properly thought out.

“Anyone who spends time in Protestant or Presbyterian Northern Ireland realises that there are people who really do view the Republic as a very strange and foreign place and they don’t want, I mean they really don’t want, to be under its sway.

“And we have to take account of that. The great thing about the Good Friday Agreement was it included both/and, so that you can be both British and Irish,” he said.

“So what would you say to someone whose identity was fully British, who saw Scotland in a way as their sort of hinterland or as their mainland, saying . . . you’re going to have to be run by Dublin?

“And they will say, ‘Well I don’t want this’, but the whole point of our politics in the last few decades has been to say if you don’t want it we will work out a constitutional arrangement whereby your desires can be in some way represented.

“So this united Ireland solution seems to me to be too quick and easy and sort of un-thought-out.”

Asked if he thought people in the Republic thought a united Ireland would mean Northern Ireland essentially “coming into” the Republic, he said: “Any solution like that would have to be like East Germany/West Germany, where West Germany just takes over the East.

“And I think the question to ask people is: how much more tax would you pay willingly to fund Northern Ireland? Because someone has to fund it.”

Earlier in the interview, on the subject of a united Ireland, he struck a jovial tone when he said: “If you were in Derry and someone said there’s going to be a united Ireland tomorrow and you’re going to join the 900,000 people who are on a waiting list to see a consultant [in the South], or stay in the NHS. ”

Derry currently also has large health waiting lists.

Tóibín said: “On the practical levels do we want to have their [Northern Ireland’s] sectarian hatreds down here and the basket case that is their economy and the basket case that is their politics . . . and do they want the basket case that is say . . . the ordinary daily workings of the HSE, for example?”

New novel

Tóibín’s latest novel, The Magician, is an imagined recreation of the life of the German novelist Thomas Mann, known for writing The Magic Mountain and Buddenbrooks.

Asked by O’Connor if he was worried about the rise of Sinn Féin in Ireland, Tóibín responded: “I just want to know one thing really. I want to know: who did the Kingsmill massacre? Just if they could tell us that.

“Just pick one. It could be [the] Enniskillen [bombing].”

The Provisional IRA was responsible for the Kingsmill massacre of January 1976 in which 10 Protestant workmen were killed.

“We don’t know who did that. What was the thinking behind taking 11 Protestants out of a minivan, or 12, and making the Catholic run, shooting the 11, one of them surviving, Alan Black, and the others being dead as young men?” asked Tóibín.

Tóibín said he had spoken to Mr Black, the only surviving shooting victim, about watching the children of the dead men grow up. “So somebody did that and they’re probably still alive.”

He was asked if he would accept that these things were “not an issue” for many young people who saw Sinn Féin as the party that could solve problems for them that they believed others were not solving.

He agreed and said he also thought it was true that the shape of Irish politics since the foundation of the State had been that parties “that at one moment still has pikes in the thatch” comes fully into the political process.

“It’s a generational thing...If you’re my age you just can’t not think about these things but obviously if you’re 25 and you cannot get anywhere to live in Dublin and you’re a student, or you’re finishing your studies, and you want to become U2, how do you get the place to live in the city to produce the next generation of rock musicians or poets?”