Have [or how] the DUP made a United Ireland more likely?

Fintan O’Toole seems to think so. He argues in his column in the Irish Times that the party’s shady dealings – the Iris Robinson affair, the NAMA scandal and the Cash for Ash debacle – make the DUP look like Fianna Fáíl’s northern branch. While the ‘Brexit spree’ gambled the future of NI within the ‘UK’. As O’Toole puts it:

“Before it embarked on its Brexit spree, Northern Ireland was becoming a surprisingly stable political entity.
For the first time in its history, the Catholic minority had been largely integrated into its political structures.
The Belfast Agreement had created a settlement that protected unionism, in the medium term at least, from demographic change.
In December 2012, when census results showed that for the first time the Protestant population in Northern Ireland had fallen below 50 per cent, this might have been an epochal moment. But it wasn’t really.
The institutions were largely working and, for all the rhetoric, there was little appetite on either side of the Border for a radical alteration of the constitutional arrangements.
Those census figures showed something else: that Northern Ireland had become, as Steven McCaffery of The Detail put it, “a community of minorities”.
It had evolved to have not the two strands of historical lore, but at least three.
The census found that 38 per cent regard themselves as British, 25 per cent as Irish and 20 per cent as Northern Irish.
It also found that while 41 per cent identified themselves as Protestant and 40 per cent as Catholic, a striking 17 per cent declined to categorise themselves as either.
This diversity was the greatest long-term protection that unionists could have.”


As I argued here recently, a more positive attitude to the Irish language would help the DUP put United Ireland to bed altogether. But no, they set their face against An Ghaeilge and now they will reap what they sow.
But the Brexit stance was what put the tin hat on it – and Sammy Wilson is now trying to be Trump’s champion in the north in the truly abject way gombeen politicians go about this kind of antic. It reminds of Kerry County Council’s decision last week to invite Donald Trump to their ‘united Kingdom’.    All this combined makes the notion of a Northern Ireland in which the DUP rule the roost more untenable to more reasonable people.     The non deplorables if you like.

According to O’Toole the DUP made a huge gamble on the red, white and blue slot on the Brexit roulette wheel.

It thought it could indulge itself in some ultra-British flag-waving but with no real-world consequences.

It would back Brexit and be secretly delighted when it lost.

The gambit was especially reckless for a party for whom the union is its whole raison d’être.

The English nationalists who drove Brexit don’t really care about the union – under the rhetorical covers, they will ditch Northern Ireland and Scotland if need be.

They were playing with loose change. The DUP was playing with the deeds to its house.

It has thus done more to advance a united Ireland than the Provisional IRA managed in 30 years of mayhem.

There may be a short interlude in which people put up with a border -whether it be ‘seamless’ or ‘frictionless’.   According to O’Toole, however, the likeliehood is that the border will be implemented as between the UK ‘mainland’ and the island of Ireland.

In the short term, there is likely to be a border for the movement of people that separates the island of Ireland as a whole from the island of Britain as a whole.

However loyally British you may be, you will have to show her majesty’s passport when you land in Stranraer from Larne or in London from Belfast – but not when you drive from Newry to Dundalk.

In the longer term, the Northern Irish identity to which 20 per cent of the population adheres and from which unionism could draw its greatest comfort will be profoundly undermined because it was predicated on Northern Ireland being in the European Union.

The EU underpinned the willingness of much of the population to settle down within the current borders for the foreseeable future.

It is breathtakingly self-destructive for unionism to withdraw that certainty.

And that’s even before we consider how those who regarded themselves as British will feel when they go to London looking for English nationalists to make up the €7,533 million in direct investment from the EU into Northern Ireland since 1988 and the 87 per cent of farm incomes that come from EU subsidies.

And the ‘sleazy behaviour’ of the DUP has overturned the [lazy] stereotypes that writers like O’Toole entertained about the north.

As for sectarian stereotypes, it should be acknowledged that the DUP in its period in government has done more to demolish them than we puny pluralists have ever managed.

The stereotype was that Catholics were dodgy and sleazy while Protestants were straight and upright. The DUP selflessly took upon itself the task of reversing these cliches.

In the Iris Robinson affair, in the handling of Nama’s Project Eagle property deal and in the cash-for-ash scandal, it has ensured that nobody can ever again trot out the notion that Catholics bend rules while Protestants respect them without being blown over by gusts of laughter.

There used to be talk that Fianna Fáil would establish a northern branch – who knew that it would be the DUP?

Who would have been able to tell that this would be Ian Paisley’s – rather than that of Gerry Adams or Martin McGuinness –  ultimate legacy?    From my own point of view, the column by O’Toole underlines more than anything else how establishment opinion in the south is coming around to what was a previously unthinkable notion – a United Ireland is definitely back on the agenda.    The times they are a changing.

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