I remember reading through old government documents from the 60s being perplexed at seeing members of the Northern Ireland government referring to their southern counterparts as members of the ‘republican government’ who were on the other side of the ‘frontier’ (that’s the border to me and you). But what was more disturbing about that period were proposals like co-operation in tourism and trade which had benefits for Northern Ireland being turned down because of political concerns about the integrity of the Northern Ireland state.
So, the history lesson is over and why should we care about what Lord Brookeborough’s government did 50 years ago? Well, watching the debate about the DETI committee report which touched upon an all island energy market you realise that not an awful lot has really changed with some peoples outlook.
This brings me to Jim Allister, who in the debate made two interventions protesting that energy be put into the remit of the North-South Ministerial Council. At the moment we are re-constructing (the original was blown up by the IRA in 1975) the North-South electricity interconnector which will be at the heart of our Single Energy Market.
If we have these projects moving on and indeed, our energy needs (we have one of the highest costs of electricity in Europe) can be met by throwing our lot in with the Irish Republic, then surely it makes perfect sense for energy to be under the remit of the NSMC?
We are a region of 1.7 million people on an island with a combined population of around 6.2 million. Underneath all of the politicking, constitutional mistrust and the idel nonsense that passes for real debate in Stormont can we not surely agree that sharing our energy resources makes some degree of sense?
No government likes giving up sovereignty or power, but I don’t honestly the point of government if it doesn’t recognise that hording power to yourself while prices continue to rise is not really the standard we should be aiming for. Our place in the world is made more meaningful by our alliances and partnerships with others. North-Southery as its call by detractors is an easy thing to attack, but the hard work is done by not the nay sayers but by those within the DETI Committee who did a great deal of work in making this report possible today.
I hope Minister Foster doesn’t fall for the North-Southery gimmickry, but recognises the importance of enhanced co-operation and anytime people like Jim Allister give her grief about undermining constitutional integrity should just shout back the ‘Jim, the Irish government are really just not that into you.’ We build enough walls within Northern Ireland, why on earth would anybody want to build them to keep out possible trading partners?
David McCann holds a PhD in North-South relations from University of Ulster. You can follow him on twitter @dmcbfs