Planning for a united Ireland
Sir, – Talk of a united Ireland is premature and unsettling for many. It cannot happen without a referendum being carried in Northern Ireland, and probably a similar referendum being carried in the Republic, things which may well never come to pass. Nevertheless, on the island of Ireland reunification is an event that demographic and political shifts might ultimately bring about.
If the recent Brexit referendum has taught us anything it is that binary votes about big ideas are fuel for chaos. The abortion referendum showed us the opposite, that a referendum on a specific question with very clear and direct legislative consequences is the right way to do it.
With that in mind officials on both sides of the Border should engage in a reunification planning process. (Unionists might call it disaster preparation.) The aim would be to consider the options and agree an outline plan for a reunification process, should it ever happen.
For example, how soon after a vote was carried should the process begin? Should it happen as a single “big bang” event or should it happen gradually over time? If gradual, would it be gradual geographically, such as by integrating first the smaller border counties like Fermanagh and Tyrone, or sectorally, such as integrating healthcare, education, social services, etc, first, with justice, policing and military last?
When integrating institutions like healthcare or education, would the Northern elements continue to follow their existing ways of working or would they be required to convert to those of their counterparts in the Republic? Or would new institutions and working practices be devised to cover both? How would the different pay scales and tax regimes be balanced across the Border?
How would local and national representatives be elected and what would the constituencies be? As a unionist official recently noted, unionist politicians might well hold the balance of power in an enlarged Dáil.
Finally, and not unreasonably, who would pay for what? Would the British government or EU contribute funds to support the transition, and if so how much and for how long?
As Brexit has shown, a simple question can have complicated answers, or no right answer at all. At least with a reasonably detailed plan and timetable in place, people voting on reunification would have some certainty about what they were voting on and much of the fear and fear-mongering in the debate leading up to a vote would be defused. – Yours, etc,