It’s the economy, stupid. Not a federal Ireland

In the Irish Times Paul Gillespie floats the idea that the North might benefit by a federal deal with the south. He invokes the useful hand played by the Republic in the recent Stormont House agreement. Certainly Charlie Flanagan waxed more eloquently than Theresa Villiers but that isn’t saying much. I discern a much bigger hand played by HM Treasury in setting the financial deal  and in monitoring  future Executive  performance.  This is surely appropriate as they put up such new money as is being made available   and in facilitating borrowing terms. It’s what actual governments do.  There is a great Irish-centric bad habit of obsessing about constitutional and identity politics while taking the money for granted. This is what they used to do  when the role of the state was rudimentary. A minor sub- text in the fight for Irish freedom a century ago was the fear that the Irish might learn to love the new state pensions and national insurance too much to find freedom worth the effort. Perish the thought!  Value in such a deal is also questionable while the  “ethos “  of Catholic schools is protected  for admissions. Changes in the republic would be considerable before a form of constitutional unity could be contemplated.  Why not concentrate more on what matters  – practical cooperation on many fronts? By the way be careful of the claim that  the “interstate treaty” is entrenched in the UK. Treaties are ratified by governments in the British constitutional system but can be deratified  by the next ( still sovereign) parliament. The relevant legislation is the Northern Ireland  Act.  I’m sure that won’t happen to it or the  GFA although ratified only by a provincial referendum. But it could just happen over Europe – quite a big issue, you’ll agree.

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London