Fintan O’Toole: Ireland is not ready for unity but may have to take that step
Regime change may be forced on us but we must handle it with skill and generosity
An anti-Brexit and anti-Border sign in the Bogside in Derry. File photograph
In his brilliant book on the Iranian revolution of 1979, Shah of Shahs, the great Polish journalist Ryszard Kapuscinski reproduced an interview from a Tehran newspaper with a man who specialised in tearing down the statues of dictators. He did it in 1941, in 1953 and again in 1979. He had special hawsers for the job, stout sisal ropes he kept hidden away for the next opportunity. He spoke lovingly of his art: “It’s not easy to pull down monuments. It takes experience, expertise. You have to know what they’re made of, how much they weigh, how high they are, whether they’re welded together or sunk in cement, where to hook the line on, which way to pull…” In 1979, he complained, there were too many enthusiastic amateurs “and there were accidents when they pulled the statues onto their own heads.”
So it always is with history. We are not likely to be literally hauling down monuments but there is every chance that we are in for regime change on these islands. The political architecture, that has broadly held for a century since the creation of Northern Ireland in 1921 and independent Ireland in 1922, is now deeply unstable. It may well be that that unhappy settlement will have to be hauled down more rapidly than any of us is prepared for. But do we use expertise and experience to gauge its weight, to figure out which way to pull and where to hook the line on? Or do we, like over-enthusiastic amateurs, pull it down on our own heads?