Economist magazine: A united Ireland is a ‘real and growing possibility’

Cover story suggests that everything has changed because of Sinn Féin’s success

In its editorial The Economist suggests that Irish unity was never more ‘than a Republican fantasy’ until this general election in which Sinn Féin emerged as the biggest party in the Republic.

In its editorial The Economist suggests that Irish unity was never more ‘than a Republican fantasy’ until this general election in which Sinn Féin emerged as the biggest party in the Republic.

 

The Economist magazine has suggested a united Ireland could “come to seem unstoppable” following Sinn Féin’s success in the general election.

The influential magazine features an image of Ireland on its cover this week with the caption: “A united Ireland - could it really happen?”

In its editorial it suggests Irish unity was never more “than a Republican fantasy” until this general election in which Sinn Féin emerged as the biggest party in the Republic.

“Sinn Féin’s success at the election is just the latest reason to think that a united Ireland within a decade or so is a real and growing possibility,” it said.

Among the reasons it gave for increasing confidence about a united Ireland is Brexit and changing demographics.

Its own analysis of the North’s demographics, based on the censuses of 2001 and 2011 along with results of Britain’s quarterly labour-force survey, suggests there are now more Catholics than Protestants combined, and that the change happened last year.

It believes that the 2021 Northern Ireland census may well confirm what the magazine has suggested about Catholics outnumbering Protestants for the first time.

If a referendum on Scottish independence passes, many Northern Protestants would have no ancestral link left to Great Britain, the magazine states.

Joanna Cherry, the Scottish National Party’s Westminster justice and home affairs spokeswoman, told the BBC Question Time programme on Thursday night she believed within a decade there would be a united Ireland and an independent Scotland because the demographics and the youth vote were moving that way “and we will both be in the European Union”.

The Economist concluded the island of Ireland “needs a plan” that would involve making unionists feel wanted in a “new Ireland”.

“ Work is needed on the nuts and bolts of unification – including how to, and indeed whether to, merge two health systems (one of which is free), the armed forces and police services, and what to do about the north’s devolved assembly. It helps that the republic has a fine record for the sort of citizen-led constitutional consultations that might help sort things out.

“Politicians from Britain and Ireland need to start talking, too. The price of ending violence two decades ago was for Northern Ireland, the republic and Britain to jointly set out a political route to a united Ireland. If the people of the north and the republic choose that path, the politicians must follow it.”

In its briefing section, which is a longer article about the prospect of a united Ireland, it quotes President Donald Trump’s Irish-American chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, who said he would “expect philanthropists and the private sector in America to stand ready to help Northern Ireland in the event of reunification”.

Fianna Fáil Senator Mark Daly said he had been told by Mr Mulvaney that Irish unification could be helped by both private and public American money. Mr Daly said his Oireachtas reports on unification emphasised the need for any unification process to be respectful of unionist sensibilities and culture.

However, Unionists quoted in the magazine piece are sceptical the Republic could afford unification.

“You’re given Scandinavian rates of taxation with southern European standards of health care and services,” said Ulster Unionist Party leader Steve Aiken. “I just don’t know why people in the Irish Republic put up with it.”

The magazine also acknowledges that even nationalists who are used to the National Health Service would baulk at the two-tier health system in the Republic.