I DON’T agree with most of it but I still think Paul Gosling’s book, A New Ireland, A New Union, A New Society, A Ten Year Plan (the 2nd edition has just been published) is one of the best made cases for a united Ireland.
It’s also worth noting that my engagements with Paul – on social media or at panel events – have always been very civil: and it’s worth noting because civility isn’t always given when it comes to people who support Irish unity. Mind you, it isn’t always given with people who oppose Irish unity. Anyway, my primary problem with Paul’s case (although, in fairness, he has included the opinions of others too, including some from a pro-Union background) is that it still doesn’t address the concerns of those who believe that unionism cannot survive in a united Ireland. Unionists support the United Kingdom. Unionists believe that the North of Ireland will always be better within the gravitational pull of the Parliament based in London. Most unionists fear that their beliefs, political values and very specific identity and sense of belonging cannot be accommodated outside the United Kingdom. Some nationalists argue that in the event of unity unionists would find themselves in the same position as nationalists who found themselves on the ‘wrong side of the border’ in 1921. That’s not so.
If it is an independent republic then unionism will have lost and indeed cannot exist. If that is so, what is the point of recognising British identity?
Nationalists were always able to carry the flaming torch for ‘a nation once again’ and campaign on the premise that a mix of circumstance and demographic shift would maybe deliver a united Ireland. Unionists would have no flame to carry (unless there was a provision for post-unity polls in what was the North of Ireland; and the possibility of rejoining the UK). A United Ireland kills off electoral/political unionism in its present form: a form which prioritises the constitutional link with the United Kingdom. So, how do you ‘accommodate’ unionism if the North of Ireland no longer exists? How do you accommodate a political/electoral strategy if the purpose and intended outcome of that strategy has has been removed? Offering to recognise The Twelfth as a public holiday; or allowing people from what was the North of Ireland to be eligible for membership of the House of Lords; or having elements of the Union Jack included in a new flag; or writing a new national anthem; or recognising Scots-Irish; these have all been mentioned as forms of accommodation. But none of them is. At best they represent mere tokenism.
There’s an interesting appendix from Desmond Murphy QC: ‘However, in all texts considered, hard questions are avoided: What will be the form of the state. If it is an independent republic then unionism will have lost and indeed cannot exist. If that is so, what is the point of recognising British identity? The essence of unionism in the North of Ireland is loyalty to the crown and monarchy and to historical sacrifices on their behalf. If those links are snapped, fuzzy promises about holding British passports will be meaningless. Where would power lie in the new state, and more importantly what would be the distribution of such power. Unionists/Protestants could not exercise effective resistance in a new state unless there were artificial protections at the centre of power.’ At this point unionists are not engaging in a debate. Let me make a point here (and I mean no disrespect to those concerned, who are clearly following their consciences): some who are self-described or viewed by others as ‘civic unionists’ are taking part in a conversation with elements of nationalism.
But they they are a small minority and, generally speaking, have little input to or influence within mainstream unionism. I make the point because the assorted ‘accommodations’ which would be acceptable to them would not be acceptable to them would not be acceptable to the much broader swathe of mainstream unionism/loyalism. That’s why I agree with another point made by Desmond Murphy:’…it would appear impossible for any unionist to negotiate on any form of Irish unity prior to a referendum.’ But that doesn’t mean that mainstream unionism shouldn’t have an internal just-in-case discussion on the subject: and they could do a lot worse than beginning with Gosling’s book. A border poll may never come (which strikes me as unlikely), or it could come within a few years. Unionism must be ready to fully engage if the moment comes: ensure beforehand that the arguments for the union are thought-through and ready to be rolled out; and that unionists are thoroughly briefed well in advance.
With many thanks to: The Irish News and Alex Kane for the original story
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