An independent Northern Ireland?
Sir, – It has been interesting over recent days to hear Arlene Foster say that in the event of unification she would “probably move”. Interesting, too, to have Alban Maginness (and others) remind the unionists among us of the electoral arithmetic that we face. Set that alongside the cartwheels being performed over Brexit and Northern Ireland’s will to remain within the EU family, and we have a right old mess.
Time for some imagination.
It would be easy to say “let’s just unify the island and be done with it”, but there are problems with that. Ms Foster’s sentiments will be far from unique. Huge numbers would depart, leaving a scar of resentment that would take generations to heal. Our track record on this island of forming a country with close to a million unhappy residents is not a good one.
Many middle-class unionists like myself have close ties and many friends in the Republic – but close ties are not the same as effectively “moving” there. I have no particular desire to find myself in an unfamiliar land, with politics, institutions and culture that I know little of. I could cope if I had to – but many would struggle, and others would resent it deeply.
So, what to do? The answer is surely some form of independence within the EU. The cry will go up: “We are too small! We are too poor!” But are we? There are six EU states with a population similar to or smaller than that of Northern Ireland. Our GDP per capita is greater than 14 of the EU28. We’re somewhere around the level of Portugal or the Czech Republic in prosperity. Perhaps the UK could be persuaded to write off our debt (a tiny proportion of the UK total) in return for a nice clean Brexit and, frankly, the joy of getting rid of us.
With a clean sheet, help and investment from our friends, and a realisation that we have, finally, to learn to live together, might we just make it work? We’d have solved the “Irish problem”, and the Brexit problem, at a stroke.
Our “failed political entity” will be 100 years old just as the UK ends its transition period and exits the EU.
After a century, maybe it is time for both of our “parents” to cut the apron-strings and send us out into the world? – Yours, etc,