Sinn Fein’s latest line on Unity – more signs of a gradualist approach

Thanks to Seumus Milne, the most radical among Guardian leader writers for supplying a concise account of Sinn Fein’s Irish unity conference. Subscribing to the determinist school on unity, Milne seizes on the counterintuitive argument from economist Michael Burke that the economic case is more compelling than ever. He fairly adds Andy Pollak’s opinion that this is nonsense. ( extracts of the economic arguments below the fold). The SDLPs Conall supplies the inspirational, inclusive vision of Irish Unity in the British archipelago.

First the very issue of unity needs to be elevated above politics…Secondly we need to make the North work. Ignoring the opportunity of regional government is to ignore the common ground on which a new Ireland will be built….That means maximum devolution but also imaginative regional solutions to local problems.

This is a civilised vision and different at least in tone from Pat Doherty’s. “ an accommodation not a settlement.” It’s weakness is similar to the SNP’s dilemma in Scotland and one which I suspect Sinn Fein is fully aware of : if devolution works well eventually, why disturb it with the upheaval of a radical new settlement? The same applies to Mitchel Mc Laughlin’s “sustainable compromise through respectful dialogue, grounded in anti-sectarianism.” The gradualist and unstrident approach of contributors suggests some retreat from the implacable dogma of old, but where it leaves SF’s strategy isn’t clear. It begs the question: why should unionists engage in a Unity dialogue? Are Sinn Fein left with relying on the chancy predictions of the numbers game?” Michael Burke

Dependence and control by Britain have been disastrous for the Northern Ireland economy, where living standards were comparable to Britain’s at the time of partition and far higher than in the south. Now they are well below the British average and far less than in the south, where independence allowed trade diversification and economic development impossible under British rule. Even after the implosion of the speculative boom, median weekly earnings were still £532 in the south late last year, compared with £357 in the north and £397 in Britain.

Andy Pollak

If the South’s economic crisis has pushed the prospect of a united Ireland well into the future in the view of one of Ireland’s most far-sighted political leaders, for ordinary people it is now a nonsense for more practical reasons. A survey this summer by the Southern magazine Consumer Choice found that the cost of commonly used services was now on average 30% higher in Dublin than in Belfast.
Dublin people now pay 45% more for a mechanic; 33% more for a plumber; 29% more for a dentist; and 25% more for a driving instructor or a chiropractor. The gap between dental charges can be even more dramatic: Consumer Choice found price differences for a routine dental examination and polish between the two cities of up to 54%. Those of us who live and work between the two jurisdictions know that to go to the doctor in the South costs €50 just to walk into the surgery, whereas consultations are free in Northern Ireland.