Warts and all: Dr. David McCann on Irish unity in the 21st Century

Hey, this interview is meant to be listened to! I’ve written up some of the highlights below, but the meat of the conversation is in the audio, so load it up, go for a drive, and let me know what you think in the comments section! I’ll look into making mp3 files available in the future—especially if people are interested in Slugger creating a monthly podcast. —Barton 

Belfast at Dawn


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Surprisingly, there isn’t a lot written about Irish unification. The Good Friday Agreement created a democratic framework within which Nationalist parties could advocate, persuade, and debate the case for Irish unity, yet the main Nationalist parties, North and South, have commissioned very little research on how unification would work or why people should vote for it. I met up with Dr. David McCann—a Nationalist, a member of Fianna Fáil, a fiscal conservative, and a PhD in cross-border Irish politics—to discuss the future direction of Irish Nationalism. By chatting with David, I hoped to push beyond the place where we’re at now: “an awful lot of aspiration, not a lot of detail.”

True to the conservative that he is, David is skeptical of the language of newness. He’s not interested in vague, optimistic visions of a “new Republic” or “new Ireland” or any other kind of panacea that promises to rid the island of all its ills. This is the language that Nationalism has been stuck in for the last fifteen years. Once a movement of ideas, he says, Nationalism has grown lethargic. It’s time for Nationalist parties to pull up seats around a common table and discuss what’s next in the movement for Irish unification.

David believes in a gradual integration of the Republic and Northern Ireland, “warts and all,” and builds his case for unity along economic, democratic, and cultural lines. He is critical of where Northern Ireland is today, firstly, because the public sector is bloated and the region too reliant on subsidies from the British government. Northern Ireland, he argues, remains stuck on the peripheral of an economy structured to benefit the South East of England. “Sure it’s a big economy, but if you’ve got no influence over it’s direction, no real investment in its prosperity, and if that economy isn’t geared toward delivering for your part of the world, then what’s the point? It’s a meaningless membership.” Secondly, Northern Irish MPs have very little influence in a Westminster government. Northern Ireland, he points out, currently has 18 of 650 MPs; but “if the North was part of an all-island situation, the North would make up a quarter to one-third of the Dáil.” Unification can help rebalance the economy and bring influence and accountability to local democracy. “We know what the problem is. A united Ireland will help us deal with it.”

I asked David to name three guiding principles on which Nationalism should structure its future direction. Attempting to find common ground among all parties, left and right, he suggested: raising of living standards; greater sense of hope, reward and opportunity; and self determination.

“People will hear the stories of the South being bankrupt. But overall in most every one of measurable living standards, the South is ahead of the North.” In terms of take-home pay, he notes that in some sectors, workers in the South make up to 60 percent more. “On our doorstep is an entrepreneurial economy” that can help the North rebalance. Unification “would give us the chance to finally, economically, get ourselves into shape.”

For more detail, listen to the podcast!


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