Nation building in Ireland entails a job of stitching rather than an unstitching

Peter Geoghegan had a nice piece comparing and contrasting the constitutional tensions in a range of places across Europe in the Irish Times on Tuesday.. I recommend reading it all, but for our narrow purposes on Slugger, I’d extract this short piece:

Ireland was once at the coalface of any prospective European boundary changes. During the cold war, the Border seemed the most likely to shift in Europe. But the post-Berlin Wall thaw coincided with a change in the Northern Irish dynamic. Calls for a Border poll are muted. Nevertheless, Scottish independence would pose major questions about the long-term future of the UK, and Northern Ireland’s place within it.

This is quite a profound reading of the broader situation. He goes on to document where the real tensions are: Flanders, Lombardia, Catalonia, all wealthy parts of their current countries resentful of what they see as economic laggards in the rest of the country.

The emphasis in all these cases (including Scotland, which is not quite as wealthy just now as it thought it was) is the unstitching the bonds of considerably more than a century.

As Peter notes, the larger debates within EU countries are not particularly marked with ethnic concerns so much as the raw deal as they see getting meted out to them.

In all cases (bar Ireland) separation is an idea capable of releasing huge political energies which may actually end up providing the energy (if not always the resources) needed to create new nations.

In Ireland, the case for separation was won more than ninety years ago. But only for that part of the island the new state could sustainably hold peaceably at the time.

But in its ongoing attempt to ‘complete that revolution’ successful successive Republican groupings have continued to use the same military methods which won them freedom in the south to ‘liberate the north’.

Yet the truth is that what faces Irish republicans and nationalists is not an unstitching process, but a redesign process capable of bringing the disparate parts of the island together.

This is precisely what the partially re-written constitution of the Republic says under the terms of the Belfast Agreement:

It is the firm will of the Irish Nation, in harmony and friendship, to unite all the people who share the territory of the island of Ireland, in all the diversity of their identities and traditions, recognising that a united Ireland shall be brought about only by peaceful means with the consent of a majority of the people, democratically expressed, in both jurisdictions in the island.

That implies stitching rather than unstitching, building rather than destroying, and recognition of the plural within Irish society (echoes of the ‘all the children of the nation’ of the 1916 Proclamation)…

In other words, before there can be further separation, there, by definition, must be an a priori coming together, under (after Tone) “the common name of Irish wo/man”.

That I suspect will require a form of reconciliation which takes that term out and beyond the current sectarian mire of local northern politics. The question is, are there any Republicans willing to take the intergenerational chance on a change they may not live to see?

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty