United Ireland less compelling now, says Mansergh


THE ADVANTAGES of a united Ireland are a lot less compelling today than they were two or three years ago, Dr Martin Mansergh said yesterday.

Speaking at the Institute for British-Irish Studies annual conference in Dublin, the Minister of State at the Department of Finance said there was no stomach among mainstream parties in the South for embarking on a new anti-partition campaign. “The Republic, is engaged in a major struggle to maintain, within the EU and indeed the euro zone, its economic viability and sovereignty,” he said.

“It is hardly the moment to press claims to the North which we have renounced, and it has to be said, the advantages and flexibility of joining up with a small sovereign state in the present global turmoil are for the moment a lot less compelling today than they were two or three years ago.” He said the country was engaged in a serious battle for economic survival to maintain the freedom to make its own economic decisions.

“If we succeed we’ll go on doing that, if we fail we may find other people making decisions for us,” he said.

“I think we are succeeding in somewhat stabilising the situation but it’s too early to be definite about that.” The chief challenge ahead was to value the peace that had been achieved, he said, and not to regard it as second best to some other ideal.

The barriers of co-operation, communication and understanding within the North and between North and South had never been lower, he said.

The Minister also said the lowering of community tensions and the ending of dissident paramilitary activity were priorities in the North, but the pressures from outside on those working together were considerable. “In politics, one often has to expend one’s credit with people in order to act effectively and in their interest, and many parties in Government and elsewhere have experienced that in the last few days,” he said.

Taoiseach Brian Cowen and Minister for Foreign Affairs Micheál Martin were committed to building on the North-South relationship, he added.

Also speaking at the conference, Prof Brendan O’Leary from the University of Pennsylvania agreed there was no strong appetite in the period ahead to pursue a united Ireland in the South.

A united Ireland was a possibility in the long run and had been built into the institutions of the agreement.

However, growth in the nationalist vote in Northern Ireland had stabilised and it was unlikely there would be a nationalist majority in the next 30 years to vote for such unity, he said.

The Institute for British-Irish Affairs was founded as part of the 1998 Anglo-Irish Agreement and focuses on the changing relationships between unionists and nationalists, North and South and Britain and Ireland.

Other speakers at the conference included historian Dr Ian d’Alton, Prof Stephen Howe from the University of Bristol, Dr Kevin Bean from the University of Liverpool, and Prof Brigid Laffan of University College Dublin.