A chara, – It has become a commonplace for the commentariat to argue that Ireland will have to change dramatically in order to accommodate unionists in a united Ireland. Critics point to polls showing large majorities in the South unwilling to make major concessions on flags, emblems, anthems, membership of the Commonwealth, increased taxes or lower public services as evidence that voters in the South haven’t given a united Ireland serious thought.
I would suggest that most in Ireland have thought about it and have decided that they quite like the current direction of travel in the South: active membership of the EU and UN, forthright support for international law and the Belfast Agreement, rapid development of infrastructure and the economy, and a gradual movement towards a more open, tolerant, inclusive society sensitive to the needs of the less fortunate, as evidenced by our support for Ukrainian refugees. We have our problems, to be sure, particularly in public housing, transport, and healthcare, but those problems don’t include wanting to become more like Britain, and particularly not more like the Britain of 50 years ago, which some of our unionist friends in the North sometimes seem to aspire to.
Ireland, as part of the EU, will increasingly diverge from Britain in many ways and that is our democratic right. If unionists enter the Irish political system, they will have a significant influence on our future directions of travel. That too will be their democratic right. But unless and until that day comes there is no point holding Ireland back in the hope that some very few unionists might want to hop on the bus.
The majority, North and South, will respect us even less for trying to be anything other than want we are: a proud, successful, inclusive, independent nation pursuing its own unique course within the context of the EU, the UN, the Belfast Agreement and international law. Unionists are welcome to join us, but they will be joining Ireland, not some lesser version and imitation of a bygone Britain.
If we want to progress towards a united Ireland, the best we can do is make Ireland even more successful and inclusive than it already is. Negotiating and compromising with forces that might try to drag us back toward a difficult past is not the way to go. – Is mise,