Schrödinger’s Ireland – The current state of Unity, is it alive or dead?

“A United Ireland is Inevitable: Discuss”

I went to a debate in Omagh on this topic, hosted by Sinn Féin’s Barry McElduff, with an open mind, willing to be challenged and frankly, looking for a way to understand the rationale behind the United Ireland cause.

Most of what I know about partition, the Easter Rising and that era came from a trip to Kilmainham Jail a couple of years ago.  What I do know though is that this happened a long time ago. So what is the reasoning behind my peers wanting a United Ireland today?

The Omagh debate featured local politicians and activists including; Tom Buchanan (DUP MLA), John McCallister (Independent MLA) and Linda Ervine (Language Rights Activist).

Irish Unity 1

I consider myself pro-union, but flimsy on it.  I think NI should be part of the UK because the UK is a more powerful, richer and influential country than Ireland (subjective I know, but it is what it is). I don’t subscribe to the concept of nationalism (and despite this great article by William Ennis, being a ‘Unionist’ is, to me, just another form of nationalism).

For me, borders are arbitrary and the land I was born on has little if any influence on who I am. So why do republicans/nationalists seem to feel so differently? What’s the motivation? History? Heritage? Culture? And why do the self-appointed spokespeople for this ‘movement’ in actuality do very little to make it a reality?

Sinn Féin loves a good metaphor – Gerry Adams and his Trojan Horse, Bobby Storey and his Butterfly. But I’d argue that another metaphor is more apt. What if a United Ireland is Schrödinger’s Cat, of sorts.

Schrödinger’s famous thought experiment aimed at concretising a paradox of sub atomic physics. The eponymous cat is put into a sealed box with something that could kill it. But until you look inside you cannot know what fate has befallen it.  Till then the cat can be said to be both alive and dead.

It’s only the opening of the box that forces the story towards one final outcome or the other. To stretch the terms of the original paradox, the hidden Cat, like this hidden United Ireland, remains both in an optimal state and the worst possible state of being whilst the box remains unopened.

As long as nobody actually looks directly at the potential of a United Ireland, it can be supposed both to be the Shangri-La that its supporters dream it to be, and an unfeasible mess of a state that detractors paint it.

The comments from audience and speakers (at least those in support of a United Ireland) at the Omagh event felt both superficial and oddly passive: the Irish Language, UK exiting the EU and the problems for social and economic cross-border activity.

Why did nobody bring up issues of greater substance or consequence? Perhaps it is because nobody wants to open the box which contains the UI Cat? What, they may figure, if it is already dead?

I was and remain a barely-marked canvas. People like Barry McElduff and his assembly colleague Declan McAleer who were in the audience, could be reaching out to people like me who aren’t tied by blood and thunder to the union.

They could be the estate agent – show me around the property, explain what potential it has and help me see myself living in it. But they didn’t, and in general they and other would-be advocates, don’t.

The Sinn Féin political machine, for all its might and protests to the contrary, is not pushing this agenda seriously.

A potential referendum was brought up at the event, will it be called for? I don’t believe I’ll see one any time soon. For Sinn Féin’s part, what if they do successfully call one and it’s a resounding no?

What would Sinn Féin’s raison d’être be if a poll returned a derisory vote for their cause – 25%? 10%?

It’s an unknown – as long as the sabre rattling continues, “We want a United Ireland,” “We want a referendum,” they can score points with those they rile up on the subject, but calling a referendum is far too risky, for now at least.

When I Googled ‘what would a United Ireland look like’ or ‘what would a United Ireland be like,’ the first hit was this article of mine, a fictional retrospective from the future on what ‘happened’ following an Ireland reunification.

Such is the level of expert research undertaken on the realities and potential of a United Ireland, that Google directs you towards my own pseudo-futuristic-alternate-reality-satire piece.

I would have thought, in the 100 years since the Easter Rising, something substantial would have been written and hosted online that would be of higher prominence than some blogger riffing about a dystopian future…

There have been some materials, but even those aren’t free from the biased hands of Sinn Féin, as discovered by Pete Baker. If a United Ireland really is as, “grass being greener on the other side,” why are independent experts not clamouring for it?

Much has been written about the politics of fear, particularly here in Northern Ireland – when it comes to election time, the old adage of, “we need to secure the border,”/”a vote for us is a vote for reunification,” is the bread and butter for too many politicians and parties…

Changing that status quo would upset too many apple carts.

If Ireland does reunify, Sinn Féin risk losing control of power anywhere on the island – stepping into the shadows of Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil & the Labour Party – better to posture and pose than risk actually discovering what colour the grass is over there

Whilst the rest of us are busy getting on with life, Unionists and Nationalists are perpetually squaring up to each other outside of a nightclub, shouting for the bouncers to, “HOLD ME BACK, HOLD ME BACK,” knowing they’ll never really have to take a swing at each other and risk missing.

Overall, I left the Omagh debate with the thought that United Ireland, as a concept, is more of a religion than a constitutional issue – evidence isn’t needed, supporting documents are sketchy at best.

But despite everything, there is faith in a higher calling – and also, like religion, there is zealotry embedded firmly within the cause, those who have killed for the idea. All in the name of…. Heaven? The great After foretold by the Prophets?

Could a United Ireland happen? Undoubtedly, anything could happen with enough imagination.

But if nationalists want it to be taken seriously and not just be the elephant in the room of every single thing they (and indeed we) do, take a serious look – reality, logic, sense, research, research, research – present a well formed argument that could persuade a non-believer, one who hasn’t grown up in the Church of the United Ireland.

To continue the metaphor, I’m standing looking in Sinn Féin’s property agents window. I see the words ‘United Ireland’ written above a listing – there’s no picture, no description, no price, no terms and conditions, nothing.

But there are people standing behind me bowing down and worshipping the box. They seem convinced as if by faith that not only is the cat alive, but it’s thriving. Yet somehow fearful to ever press their luck by opening it up.


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  • eireanne3

    “Unionism has the right under the GFA to advocate for the union”. –
    Indeed Alan and the vast majority of people in NI supported the GFA and this principle.
    So let’s see Unionist parties adhere to it.
    Let’s see them drop the Orange Order, refuse to propose candidates who are members, refuse to allow the Loyal orders to piggy-back on them to a pwer-base.
    Let’s see Unionist parties campaign solely on the benefits of Union
    We will see convinced unionists voting for exactly what’s on the tin while others make up their own minds on the strength of the pro-Union arguments

    PS the Loyal orders can form their own party and whoever wants can vote for them!!!

  • eireanne3

    let me try and make myself clear.
    You dragged in the polling issue. I objected to the poll findings because of unknown parameters –
    Therefore searching out other polls, as you request – seemingly convinced findings would trump (or not trump) your statements, would be a total waste of my time and a refutation of my arguments
    You or I or anyone else could very well object to any poll findings I care to present on the basis of some unknown parameters –
    No wonder you wanted to close the argument – you didn’t have a clue as to what it was about!!

  • eireanne3

    misleading inference brendan. The increase in the Uk population was also due to influx from former colonies – or are there no Pakistans, Jamaicans, Indians and so forth in the UK?

  • Alan N/Ards

    I don’t think badly of you for wanting to keep your flag. Far from it. It is your right to have it. Ok, I used the word vindictive but I have said that it was the wrong choice of word ( and it was). With hindsight, I would have used “insensitive” when referring to the Tricolour as the flag of a UI. As I know nothing about you it was wrong of me accuse you of being vindictive. I have also no idea if you are insensitive. So, for that, I apologise.

    Personally speaking, I am interested in the idea of a Federal Ireland. I believe it is a way forward. Fair enough, it isn’t the only way forward but, I believe it could unlock the possibility of a peaceful transition from the UK to an all Ireland state for NI.

  • Alan N/Ards

    If that was to happen then I would be a very happy man. I haven’t voted for a unionist candidate for the past two elections. As soon as I see ” a member of the Loyal Orders” on their election leaflets they lose my vote. In fact, in the last two elections my vote went to the SDLP.

  • Brendan Heading

    There is no need for sarcasm.

    You also forgot to mention the huge influx of Irish migrants into the UK during the period.

    If you were following my point, you would know that it doesn’t matter why the population increased in the UK The fact is that it did, while Ireland’s population remained static. The point is that the Irish economy wasn’t able to support the population until at least five decades after independence.

    I’m pointing this out because there are people arguing that ending British rule in Northern Ireland will automatically lead to economic autonomy and growth. That wasn’t the experience in post-independence Ireland. Ireland’s remarkable economic success story is relatively recent and is substantially confined to the greater Dublin area.

  • Brendan Heading

    No, you objected to poll findings on completely specious grounds by talking about sample sizes and polling methodology. Your plan from the start was to try to discredit polling itself rather than attempt to explain the possible reasons for the anomalies we’ve been discussing.

    Given that my position is that poll findings have consistently shown that a small but substantial minority of nationalists will not vote for a united Ireland in the short term, you would completely refute me if you identified polls that should otherwise. You’re just blustering because you can’t.

    Take a look through this thread. It’s full of nationalists and SF voters (and one individual who says he’s an SF activist) being distinctly circumspect about whether they would vote for a UI if a referendum occurred tomorrow. Why is it so difficult to believe ?

  • Brendan Heading

    I don’t disagree with any of your characterisation of Ireland’s economic history.

    The question is, would it have been better or worse if the Home Rule crisis had not happened and we’d continued on our merry way ? I don’t think it would have been substantially different.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    some of it anyway!
    Yes it’s one reason I prefer parties these days that take the union as a given and get on with thinking about what kind of NI, what kind of UK we want. There is no need really to be a specifically unionist party these days, as we’re secure now. Unionism as an idea does still need to be defended but I think it can be done better by getting on with life and politics and ignoring the spirit-dissipating stuff about how my tribe’s better than your tribe.

    Outside Slugger, the vast majority in poll after poll show they want to get on with Northern Ireland as it is and have little interest in a united Ireland. Those people are SF’s worst nightmare, as they always were: ordinary people who just want a normal, decent life and who are determined to get on with it. They are the winners of the Troubles – they, unionist and nationalist alike, have prevailed. Those of us whose heads are swimming with identity issues and politics should all go out to a B&Q or a Dunnes Stores and thank them.

  • Barneyt

    Great piece that for me Ernekid that offers possivity and hope. We do need to be creative and unionists need to be part of this solution. I’ve said it before, but I wonder how many are determined to retain NI to spite SF and to prevent their sworn enemy from achieving their united Ireland goal. I think there is a bit of that at work. The integration of the North with the ROI would change the whole dynamic of the island and I would hope for positive change.

    I feel the establishment of NI allowed for two religious fanatical dangerous church controlled statesregions to emerge. Much could have been prevented as unionists could have acted to prevent the rise of the Catholic Church. Moderation could have been retained within unionism, but instead they touch a dangerous jaunt into ulgy territory in their new insulated homeland

    Over time the control the church has in the south was been weakened and in time it will be yet more irrelevant, at least in terms of influencing social policy. NI is still very much a church controlled state in my view, and lags behind the progression in the south.

    I think the climate is now right for those who would live in a united Ireland and who would want to shape if for all, to take a leap of faith….or a set of little hops then larger jumps, so that one day, we see the splender of Orangefest emblazoned on O’Connel St as well as the Green on St Pats. The colour white of peace will I hope be implicit. I am not saying it will be easy.

  • Jollyraj

    “Why is it “common sense” to do for intransigent Unionists what they explicitly refuse to do for Nationalists?”

    A common view amongst Irish Republicans. ‘It was wrong what they did, but when we do it it will be ok for us to do it, because they did it’. Increasingly, one sees the same creeping discrimination against the minority unionist population in places like Fermanagh where the nationalist majority not only discriminates in terms of employment, but feels bitter vindication in doing so. Ooops…I forgot we weren’t supposed to mention that..

  • Jollyraj

    On the contrary, I read all of it – and I’m very familiar with the old ‘2 wrongs make a right’ argument you’re making.

    The fact that it touches such a sharp nerve in you tells its own story.

    I don’t know what kind of evidence you want or would accept in relation to discrimination – and I’m not at all sure I care whether you believe it is going on or not. By its very nature it is notoriously difficult to prove. But you seem outraged by the suggestion
    Do you believe that nationalists wouldn’t do such a thing?

  • Belfast Barman(ager)

    So future generations should be hamstrung by the decisions of today? Hardly seems fair….