If you missed it last night both Patricia MacBride and Chris Donnelly featured on the joint RTE/BBC broadcast looking at issues such as a United Ireland, abortion rights and same-sex marriage.
To start with Irish unity and just who wants it, the survey found support for devolution strong on both sides of the border. For republicanism, it highlights the need to make devolution work and ensure that this place functions, before you contemplate any new ventures with a United Ireland. In the short term this has to be the aim and it will mean people climbing down off of grand visions and addressing some real socio-economic concerns.
Good news here is that a solid majority in the South support a United Ireland, bad news is that it is still trailing in Northern Ireland by a decent margin. Where there is light at the end of the tunnel is in that 27% “Don’t know” these are people whom I would punt make decisions based on the pound in their pocket and real living concerns. Going back to my first point, Nationalism cannot hope to win over undecided, if it has not got its own economic house in order.
Moving away from voodoo economics and cooking the books to suit a narrative would be a useful start.
And this leads me into tax…Yes it might be hard to understand from a Northern point of view but a great chunk of our Southern brethren will be weighing up the cost of taking on Northern Ireland. Pat Rabbitte put the cost at two extra Universal Social Charges a year and in Germany they had to do a Solidarity Tax to make unification fly.
Maybe republican parties in the Northern Ireland Assembly might want to use the levers of power to make the state cheaper to run? Instead of following the current course which wants increases in spending, paid for the British government with no end in sight.
In Northern Ireland the results are the same with just 11% opting to pay more tax. All a No campaign would have to do is just mimic the Tories 1992 “Labour’s Tax Bombshell” ad and your economic credibility has taken a dent already.
Then the religious breakdown in Northern Ireland. In line with most surveys I have read on the issue the number of Protestants supporting a United Ireland is in single digits and most Catholics opt for devolution. The message of an “inclusive United Ireland” clearly has not convinced people on the Protestant side of our community.
Chris has already set out some challenges for Nationalists, but I would just make some observations. I noticed last night people dismissing the poll just because the findings weren’t to their liking. This same company does polls in the South and is regularly relied upon. Moreover, it is broadly in line with findings from companies like Lucid Talk and the NI Life and Times Survey.
Republicans need to instead of putting their fingers in their ears and closing their eyes, take a long hard look at these numbers. Sure it is only one poll, but let’s face it, we’ve been saying that about all the others that have been conducted over the last decade.
We need to address the scandal that despite all the high talk, we have been able to just convince 3% of our Protestant country men to support a United Ireland.
We also need to get away from policies that keep Northern Ireland uncompetitive and dearer to run. There needs to be a real drive to make the border irrelevant and utilize the devolved administration to get this place back on track.
Only when you have done that, can you even contemplate a United Ireland worthy of the name. Much was made of the focus on Arlene Foster last night on the Nolan Show, but perhaps that’s because she was one of the few politicians with anything interesting to say.
In summary, republicans path to the promised lands lies in securing and improving the Northern Ireland state, rather than attempt to just dismantle it completely.
The game has changed over the past 15 years, it’s important to change with it.
David McCann holds a PhD in North-South relations from University of Ulster. You can follow him on twitter @dmcbfs