Does the South really want the North as part of Ireland?

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A Note from the Next Door Neighbours (72) 

August 2012

DOES THE SOUTH REALLY WANT THE NORTH AS PART OF IRELAND?

It is difficult to overstate the lack of interest there is among people in the Republic these days in Northern Ireland, and in relations between North and South. As somebody who works in the North and lives in the South, my experience in recent years, as the economic and financial crisis has come to dominate all public discourse, is that people in the Republic simply don’t want to know.

‘People in the South are utterly happy with its 26 county shape: their mental map is the 26 counties,’ says a Southerner who has held senior public office in both jurisdictions. ‘When there was active violence in the North, and people saw the Northern conflict on the television every night, their consciousness was more elevated. Now there is no longer a constituency of the concerned in the South.’

There is a constituency – it is difficult to know how large it is – who would go further and say that after over 90 years of going their very different ways, the two are separate places, and that is the way to keep them. This view was articulated by the young woman  in the audience who attacked Martin McGuinness on the game-changing RTE Frontline programme during last October’s presidential campaign in the following words: ‘As a young Irish person, I am curious as to why you have come down here to this country, with all your baggage, your history, your controversy? And how do you feel you can represent me, as a young Irish person, who knows nothing of the Troubles and who doesn’t want know anything about it?’ (emphases as spoken).

The senior figure quoted above believes that ‘the greatest challenge for the North-South dimension of the [peace] process is persuading people in the Republic of its importance.’ He emphasises the need for more ‘people to people’ cooperation across the border, with a particular emphasis on the unionist community, who will feel increasingly beleaguered as Northern Ireland becomes demographically ‘greener.’ Unionists should ‘not have to leave their British identity outside the door’ to engage in such cooperation, he says. The Irish government needs to pay special attention to unionism, which is feeling less confident than ever, with Catholic pupils and students now making up majorities at every level of the NI education system, the forthcoming referendum on Scottish independence and the lack of an obvious leader to succeed Peter Robinson.

The distinguished journalist Olivia O’Leary agrees. At the inaugural Garret Fitzgerald Spring School she urged the assembled dignitaries to re-animate North-South cooperation.  She proposed three ways in which this might be done: through more ‘people to people’ cooperation; more cooperation (to mutual benefit) in the joint provision of public services; and the economic and social development of the often marginalised border region.

For any of this to happen the dominant mood of boredom with and disengagement from the North will have to change, although I don’t see this happening any time soon.  However it does beg the bigger, longer-term question: Does the South really want the North as part of an eventual united Ireland?

Opinion polls over the past decade or so show that a bare majority of people in the Republic now say they want Irish unity.[1] As long ago as the mid-1980s the political scientist Peter Mair described the attitude of Irish voters as: ‘Unity would be nice. But if it’s going to cost money, or result in violence, or disrupt the moral and social equilibrium, then it’s not worth it.’[2] This view was stated again in a 2011 survey of attitudes to North-South relations among a sample of University College Dublin and Queen’s University Belfast social science students.  As one UCD student put it: ‘Neither of us want it [Northern Ireland]: neither us nor the UK government. I’d say if you asked the majority of Irish people – yes, nationalists, out of a sense of allegiance, might say they wanted a united Ireland – but it’s really far more trouble than it’s worth. I mean, to integrate Northern Ireland into this state – why would you be bothered? The status quo satisfies everyone.’[3]

But history doesn’t stand still. If Scotland becomes independent after a referendum in 2014 (or maybe five to ten years later if there is an inconclusive result and the Scottish Nationalists demand a re-run), it will surely only be a matter of time before the English government (because it will be largely English by then) and people start asking themselves what is the point of their continuing constitutional union with the north-eastern corner of Ireland. One doesn’t have to be a Sinn Feiner to wonder what will be the position of the government and people of the rest of Ireland in that eventuality. It is a question that they would almost certainly prefer not to contemplate. But it is one which they need to start  thinking about very seriously.

Andy Pollak

PS  Wasn’t it nice to see Belfast celebrating two local boxers winning Olympic medals for Ireland, and Coleraine celebrating three local rowers winning Olympic medals for the UK?  This is the kind of ‘both Irish and British’ identity we in the new Northern Ireland can begin to enjoy, rather than the divisive, often violent ‘either/or’ of Irish nationalism versus Ulster unionism. And wasn’t it great to see Katie Taylor, a Pentecostalist and evangelical Protestant from Bray, Co Wicklow, winning a boxing gold medal in such thrilling style for Ireland?  There must be a few stereotypes beginning to creak there, particularly in the North.

 


[1]  e.g. the European Values Survey (1999-2000) found that 54% of people favoured Irish unity.

[2]  Mair, P. (1987), ‘Breaking the Nationalist Mould: The Irish Republic and the Anglo-Irish Agreement’, in Beyond the Rhetoric: Politics, the Economy and Social Policy in Northern Ireland, ed. P.Teague

[3]  De Burca, A. and Hayward, K. (2012), ‘The Agreement Generation: Young People’s views on the Cross-Border Relationship, Journal of Cross Border Studies in Ireland, No.7

  • PaddyReilly

    The Irish Army has 8,500 active personnel, and 13,000 in the Army Reserve. Army personnel are currently serving in Kosovo, Bosnia, Western Sahara, Congo, Afghanistan, Chad, Côte d’Ivoire, Lebanon, Haiti and the Middle East. The Lebanon mission suffered 47 deaths. (Wikipedia)

  • http://gravatar.com/joeharron Mister_Joe

    OK, Andy.

    Your thread; what do you think? Yes or No?

  • Greenflag

    Northern Ireland holding their own against the Russians after 8 minutes . Come on the boys in black and green (my old school colours) :) Its the World Cup qualifiers for those who may be unaware of today’s game .

  • salgado

    Greenflag – unfortunate final result, but 2-0 is a respectable result and I was impressed by parts of the performance. Hopefully NI can push on from this and get third in the group (I just can’t see Russia and Portugal failing to get though).

    Good luck to the Republic in pulling things round against the Kazakhs – I guess there must still be a bit of a hangover from the summer. They should be able to push Sweden for second.

  • Greenflag

    Yes NI did well and can only improve . Lafferty could have done with some support up front .

    Narrow escape for the Republic . A goal down with a few minutes left then a penalty and a Kevin Doyle winner .I suppose travelling across five time zones and 3,000 miles takes it’s toll . Still a win is a win . Not too confident about pushing the Swedes for second place .The Swedes were by far the best of the first round exiters in the Europeans and I thought they were unlucky not to qualify for the next round .

    NI have to win their home games this time around to have any chance ditto the Republic . The Germans will as usual be the toughest to beat either home or away.

  • Moderate Unionist

    Really good shape to the team, bit unlucky, awful group.

  • salgado

    Unfortunately I think we’d have been steam rollered if Lafferty had been given support, but hopefully we can nick something at home.

    Sweden’s performance may depend heavily on how Ibra does. He seems in good form at the minute but PSG aren’t, and they’re under a lot of pressure due to their spending spree. If he runs into poor form at club level it could carry on to international games.

  • salgado

    Also, I see McLean is back on twitter.

    “Delighted as a fan we got the win. Personal level #fuming #fuckinjoke #embarrassing”
    I can’t imagine that going down well with his manager or teammates.

  • PaddyReilly

    Flann O’Brien would be the one to answer this question. Being in equal parts from Strabane and Dublin, he embodied both the ‘North’ and the ‘South’ in one person.

    I can imagine him lying in bed, with his feet facing north, bellowing at his left leg, “Get away from me you Northern get, what do I want with all your baggage, your history, your controversy?”

    People in the deep South frequently adopt two positions with regard to the Northern problem, that of the Lemming (less common nowadays) and that of the Ostrich. The above opinions are an expression of pure Ostrichism. If you have a minefield next to your house, you would be advised not to go marching across it, but neither should you pretend that if someone else owns it, it doesn’t concern you. It is a danger to your children: you must go through it and remove the mines: you have to learn how to defuse them.

    With regard to the Six Counties, the Ostrich approach is permissible until such time as there is a referendum. Equally if the referendum is negative, the matter does not arise. But if the referendum succeeds, then one has a problem: an area in which 51% (say) of the population approves of the state and 49% is less enthusiastic, varying from grudging acceptance to outright insurgency. The option of saying, “No thanks, we don’t want you” (apart from being a Unionist dream) is now not really on. It could lead to the Mother of all Civil Wars, with huge numbers of refugees streaming over the border.

    One imagines that the whole purpose of the Irish state keeping a standing army of 8,500, with a reserve of 13,000, and sending them abroad to trouble spots from Afghanistan through to Western Sahara, is in preparation for this contingency.

    Local resources are something that will also be sought after. Partition required the creation of a massive Special Constabulary, with incredible numbers of men involved: I think something like one in three Protestants was in uniform, before things quieted down. So we are looking for the Nationalist equivalent of the ‘B’ Specials.

    Equally, the army of unemployed in the 26 counties, standing currently at 450,000, is an asset that is just crying out to be exploited: though not in any combat role: it would be sufficient if the number of Nationalist leaning corner-boys in any given location outnumbered the equivalent Unionist contingent.

    However the state does have other ways of protecting itself. It controls state employment, an enterprise which Ulster Protestants participate in to an unusually high degree; it sustains the Unemployed; it provides state housing.

    I would suggest a nation-wide 32 county fair employment policy, whereby the percentage of Protestants in any substantial workplace would need to be at least 5%; and that of Catholics 75%.

    If you make preparations, then in all likelihood the predicted emergency will not arise. The much clucked about Millennium Bug never materialised.

  • lamhdearg2

    “One imagines that the whole purpose of the Irish state keeping a standing army of 8,500, with a reserve of 13,000, and sending them abroad to trouble spots from Afghanistan through to Western Sahara, is in preparation for this contingency”

    one may want to look at Irelands obligations (as precived) to the U,N, for its reasons for the above.

  • lamhdearg2

    paddy, will you put a uniform on yourself, it makes one awfully easy to target.

  • http://gravatar.com/joeharron Mister_Joe

    There is a parallel thread about Quebec independence. Funny (strange) to see the similarities although one is about trying to separate and the other is about putting together. Neither idea has anyway near enough people who want it.

  • lamhdearg2

    paddy, this million strong army (1 in 3 + the “corner-boys”) what will the gov of Eire pay them with?,
    they could try sweety mice, as there is pleaty of sweety mice floating around in the heads of those who believe Eire could subjugate an Ulster loyalist uprising.

  • http://gravatar.com/joeharron Mister_Joe

    Now there’s a memory conjured up – sweety mice. Haven’t seen one of those in over 30 years. Don’t have them here.

  • lamhdearg2

    do you ever sleep joe. your not up in the artic circle are you?.

  • PaddyReilly

    Million strong army? 450,000 and falling one hopes. That is just the beauty of it. You don’t have to pay them. You just tell them they won’t get their dole unless they sign on in Newtownards etc and reside in the vicinity.

  • lamhdearg2

    sweety mice!

  • Greenflag

    ‘You just tell them they won’t get their dole unless they sign on in Newtownards etc and reside in the vicinity.’

    Whichever Minister or Taoiseach in the Republic would utter such stupidity would find himself/herself hanging upside down from a lampost in Merrion Row while irate mobs jumped up and down on whichever political party’s corpse said Minister/Taoiseach belonged to ?

    If you want people in the Republic to fight and possibly lose their lives for a shower of ideologues you’ll have to promise them a lot more than the dole . And in any event Northern Ireland has bugger all in terms of resources worth losing a life for !

    Get real Paddy and give over the’oul gumpf ;)

  • http://gravatar.com/joeharron Mister_Joe

    lamhdearg,

    Driving north from my house, after about 100km, there is a large sign at the side of the highway which says “Half Way to the North Pole”.

  • http://gravatar.com/joeharron Mister_Joe

    Roughly same latitude as Florence in Italy.

  • PaddyReilly

    Whoever said anything about fighting and losing their lives? If you send one policeman to break up a fight, he may be at risk, but if you send 100, it is the combatants who need to worry.

  • The Lodger

    “One imagines that the whole purpose of the Irish state keeping a standing army of 8,500, with a reserve of 13,000, and sending them abroad to trouble spots from Afghanistan through to Western Sahara, is in preparation for this contingency. ”

    One would imagine wrong. They are mostly employed in protecting Securicor vans from Irish republican terrorists and home grown mafiosa.

    The rest of your post is frankly weird.

  • neutralist

    ”I am disappointed that Paddy seems to be the only Southerner posting. He may be typical but I feel from my frequent visits that most people (the most I meet) would dread having inter-communal strife coming South.”

    I have commented. And my comment was that every opinion poll in the ROI indicates overwhelming support for a UI; opinion polls here can be taken seriously unlike those north of the border.

  • http://gravatar.com/joeharron Mister_Joe

    neutralist,

    Sorry that I missed your comment.

    opinion polls here can be taken seriously unlike those north of the border

    Why is that so?

  • Alias

    Mary Robinson accurately summed up the state of play in Ireland on this (redundant) issue to William Crawley:

    I asked Mary Robinson if the great changes Ireland has undergone, north and south, in recent years mean that we have moved closer to a re-united Ireland. Perhaps significantly, given that she speaks as a former president, Dr Robinson said this constitutional question “isn’t on the agenda” and “doesn’t need to be on the agenda”. In fact, she said, the notion of a united Ireland ” isn’t even relevant to the context of what is happening [here now] … There is no constituency of pressure for a united Ireland.” She explained that when asked by Irish Americans, “Do you see the day?” she replies, “Not really.”

  • Alias

    Incidentally, the key sentence there is “There is no constituency of pressure for a united Ireland.”

    Some folks may talk about it but they’re the types of folks you put phrases into used car ads for such as “no dreamers”, “no tyre kickers” and “no time wasters”.

  • PaddyReilly

    Mary Robinson was the president before the president before last: quoting her is an example of what is called argumentum ad verecundium. Her statement, that “there is no constituency of pressure for a united Ireland” might be true for the time it was made (2008, I believe) and the conditions under which it was made (still a Unionist majority in the 6 county area, albeit a small one). But we have to consider what will happen if and when those conditions change. If there is a Nationalist majority, there will be a constituency of pressure.

    The Chinese, seeing a place on the Upper Yangtse, said to themselves, here would be a good place for a city, so they brought in 27 million people and called it Chongqing. I like their style: it’s a good example of what can be done if you try, as opposed to the ‘Oh dear, nothing will change, nothing can change, we’re stuck in this rut for ever and ever, we’ve signed away our freedom’ philosophy that one finds in some circles.

  • JR

    Were a United Ireland declared in the morning it would be welcomed by 85% of the people on this Island and 85% of people on our neighbouring Island.

  • lamhdearg2

    jr, that must have been some size of poll you conducted.

    unfortunatly neutralist has no faith in polls not taken south of the border.

  • Greenflag

    ‘it would be welcomed by 85% of the people on this Island ‘

    Not sure if ‘welcomed’ is the right word in current economic circumstances but I ‘d make it 86.36% .

    ‘and 85% of people on our neighbouring Island.”

    Way off there JR -more like 96.36 % and who could blame them ?

    Much more relevant and I’m surprised no Slugger blogger has started a thread on it given First Minister Robinson’s recent statement re his support for Scotland remaining in the Union in the 2014 referendum . The Deputy First Minister McGuiness wisely has stated that NI should not interfere in Scotland’s decision one way or the other .

    Mr Robinson may have unintentionally scored a goal for the Scottish nationalists for many Scots if not most will take a look at where Mr Robinson is coming from and perhaps suggest that if NI is the example that Scotland needs to look up to then they will plump for the opposite of what Mr Robinson suggests .

  • Alias

    Paddy, indeed it was in 2008. At that time, the NILT survey showed support for the UK in NI to be 70% of the population (with 18% favouring a united Ireland). Since 2008, support for the UK has risen to 93% of the population. So that’s the difference that 3 years has made. And that constituency of pressure is to remain within the UK (or extend the UK to all of the island). That’s what unicorns actually look like.

  • Greenflag

    @paddy reilly ,

    ‘Her statement, that “there is no constituency of pressure for a united Ireland” might be true for the time it was made (2008, I believe) ‘

    Indeed. Thats probably still the case and in a certain sense will always be the case . But as you correctly state ‘If there is a Nationalist majority, there will be a constituency of pressure”

    But it will not take the form of “the gun in one hand and a ballot paper in the other ‘ -It promises to be a much more mundane event should it come to pass . For the vast majority of Irish nationalists it will be just the end of a phase of political history which has been since the late 1880′s driven by sectarian fears (not always unjustifiable ) and the desire on the part of an elitist minority to hold on to economic and political power . And that was and is nothing new in the history of nations -just look at the Sunnis in Iraq (Hussein’s tribe) and the Aloites in Syria (Assad’s tribe ) and even the now dead Gadaffi held power predominantly because of the predominance of the Gadaffi tribe .

  • Greenflag

    @ Alias ,

    ”That’s what unicorns actually look like.”

    Newsflash for Alias – Unicorns don’t exist except in fairy tales . The DUP’s policy on ‘fairies ‘ seems indeterminate and their position on ‘fairies ‘ marrying each other would sound like %#@*@*&*^ to the sensitive ear !

    ‘So that’s the difference that 3 years has made. ‘

    I’m beginning to think Alias that you may be a ‘unicorn ‘with one important difference . Your ‘horn’ is growing from the outside in and thus has had consequences for your judgemental capacities ;)

    3 years in Irish or British or in any history is a short time in a purely timeframe sense but 3 years can be enough to change the course of history for a nation . England 1064 as compared to England 1067 . Ireland 1918 Ireland 1921 . Ireland 1842 -Ireland 1845 , are but three examples .

    But I would’nt equate the 3 years post 2008 with any of the above listed historical events which indeed changed the course of history both for Ireland and Britain and the relations between both islands .

    ‘And that constituency of pressure is to remain within the UK (or extend the UK to all of the island).’

    I don’t doubt the ‘unionist ‘ desire to remain part of the larger political unit of the UK nor would I state that the island of Ireland in it’s entirety will never in a thousand or three years rejoin the UK .

    The fallout from the worldwide economic recession and the subsequent Euro crisis -property bubbles – Wall St gangsterism etc are still ongoing and thus 3 years from now we may be in an entirely different situation . Much depends on economic recovery .

    What makes me somewwhat more optimistic is that despite the USA economy being in the doldrums and despite unemployment being very high the American voting public seem to have rejected the glib and farcical Romney/Ryan Republican agenda that reducing taxes on the rich and cutting public expenditure in education and health and welfare together with further deregulation and increasing defence spending will somehow have different consequences from those which resulted from George Bush jr’s implementation of the same policies from 2000-2008 .

    American voters are not dumb even if many in the Tea Party and the far right give that impression . They know that Obama inherited the worst economic mess since the 1930′s Great depression and they know that electing Romney would just be a recipe for a repeat !

    Apols for going off topic but a UI can wait and we may have to wait to see how Scotland decides in 2014 on it’s constitutional future .

    In the event of an unlikely Euro wide implosion and currency mayhem and resulting political uncertainty some Irish people of a formerly ‘nationalist ‘ persuasion might be tempted to reconsider a UK link . But would any British Tory with half a brain want to relink the UK with an Ireland that would send 60-70 MP’s to Westminster and with the vast majority being of an Irish nationalist background and thus anti Tory by inclination and probably most pro labour with a few Liberals ?

    Doesn’t bear thinking about by the party numbers men at Fawlty sorry Millbank Towers in central London – A veritable nightmare prospect for the Cameroonian little Englanders one would think;)?

  • PaddyReilly

    Alias

    The object of politics is to receive a favourable vote in elections, not in NILT surveys. If the NILT percentage of approval can shoot up from 70% to 93%, it can also go down to 49%. Election results show a much more predictable trajectory, with support for Unionist parties declining from 66+%, percentage point by percentage point, year by year, to the current level of circa 49% (1st pref) and 51% (after transfers).

    If in the next election (Euro, 2014) Nationalists manage to win two seats, then people will begin to question whether partition is necessary. If they don’t, then we can soldier on as before for a while; if they do, we have to start making serious contingency plans. Your thinking, as far as I can see, rests on three fallacies:

    1) The NILT is accurate, and a better indication of what people truly believe than elections are;
    2) The expression of approval for the continuance of the UKGBNI is permanent, and not conditional on Nationalists remaining a minority in the NI area;
    3) That said approval will not change with changing circumstances.

  • Republic of Connaught

    The terms ‘north’ and ‘south’ in Ireland are actually misleading. It gives the false impression of equal size and influence. The Republic encompasses nearly five sixths of the whole country. It has nearly 3 million more citizens. Northern Ireland is only six north eastern counties out of Ireland’s 32. And in 2012 it’s only maybe 2 of the 6 counties that have a Unionist majority, which would mean only 2 out of 9 Ulster counties is Unionist. Hence saying as a matter of fact there will never be a united Ireland is patent nonsense.

    Unless we have some psychics on slugger, in which case I’d like to know the midweek lotto numbers, cheers.

    Whether people in the Republic will vote for a united Ireland is a pointless debate until there’s a nationalist majority within the six counties. People down here simply won’t think about the north until the time comes to vote and then they will consider the pros and cons of reunification.

    But I think everyone knows deep down which way a majority in the South will vote if it came to it.

  • JH

    C’mon lads.

    The trend in the West is towards empirical breakup. It has been since Liz II was sworn in, and was probably initiated by the great war and perpetuated by the emergence of the free market.

    The settlement might have slowed that trend here but the world moves on without us. When Scotland, supposedly an equal partner in the United Kingdom, is starting to assert her independence do you really need more evidence?

    After all, an independence movement only has to be lucky once, Unionists have to be lucky at every referendum…

    Yesterday the DUP finance minister stood up Dáil na Thuaisceart (heh) and called for devolution of full fiscal control to the Assembly.

    The question seems to be not ‘Will there be a United Ireland’ but ‘What form will independence take for the North?’. That’s a very open and exciting question I think.

  • lamhdearg2

    “The question seems to be not ‘Will there be a United Ireland’ but ‘What form will independence take for the North?’. That’s a very open and exciting question I think.”

    The answer to which, where Ulster not full of begging coattail hanging wimps, would be a independent nation of Ulster.

  • Greenflag

    @ RC ,

    ‘Whether people in the Republic will vote for a united Ireland is a pointless debate until there’s a nationalist majority within the six counties.’

    Correct.

    ‘ People down here simply won’t think about the north until the time comes to vote and then they will consider the pros and cons of reunification.’

    Again the ring of truth sounds .

    ‘But I think everyone knows deep down which way a majority in the South will vote if it came to it.’

    Indeed -it’s just that when it comes to straw clutching as in the last straw you won’t find anywhere a better class of straw clutcher than on slugger . Give some of these lads a few rivets and a hammer and they’ll swear they can rebuild the Titanic , rebuild the Empire and persuade voters in Dungiven that they really live in Finchley ;)

  • salgado

    Some slugger posters also appear to be good at using that straw to build some sort of strawman.

  • Greenflag

    @ lamhdearg2,

    ‘The answer to which, where Ulster not full of begging coattail hanging wimps, would be a independent nation of Ulster.’

    Perhaps its just as well that NI is awash with ‘wimps’ these days . We’ve seen the alternative and it did’nt make for pleasant viewing or living .But it was way up there in the charts for murder , mayhem , and destruction and I would think that most people in NI have had enough of that s***e !

    BTW ‘independence ‘ is a misnomer in this day and age even for the Republic and a future Scotland and indeed even the UK in it’s present format .

    The banksters rule and they don’t care what colour your flag is and care even less about your ‘nationality’ . But it seems the Dutch have woken up and today’s election in the Netherlands may be a preview of what awaits the EU in the near future

    http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-09-10/feuding-dutch-politicians-agree-on-toughening-rules-for-banks.html

  • tacapall

    http://www.independent.ie/national-news/uniform-first-for-irish-forces-in-uk-2634528.html

    Says it all really about the present and future relationships between Ireland and Britain. The reasons for Unionism rejecting or fearing a United Ireland are slowly being eroded but heaven forbid at the same time so are the reasons for not rejoining the commonwealth, its all down to respect, mutual benefit, security and financial incentives.