Whatever the parties say the post #AE17 dissolution is no stepping stone to a united Ireland…

With the plethora of positive comment in that direction, you’d certainly think was already coming in the post. It’s certainly good to get the subject out on the table (even if the party politics of it obscures more than it reveals of the subject).

It’s good to know Fianna Fail is working on a 12 point plan (although the proper time to judge the worthiness of any such plan will come when they actually release it).  The something in the air was the Assembly election when Unionism got an almighty kicking.

But what’s gone missing in most analyses is that Nationalist gains only moved votes inside the same footprint it had had back in 2003.

Gone missing too to those who monitor Catholic and Protestant numbers (as if tracking enemy populations) is that whilst Protestants dropped by 5%, Catholics in the 2011 Census only moved up by 1%. 17% either stated no religion, or did not state religion.

As I pointed out on The Week In Politics week before last, what’s missing from most observer’s representations is the burgeoning middle:

The fatalism around Brexit (exaggerated by UK Labour’s seemingly endless drift on the matter of Brexit and Theresa May’s stubborn insouciance in her attitude to critics) is feeding unrealistic expectations on the matter.

It’s also based on a shorthand reading of Northern Ireland’s majority against Brexit does not take account of the fact that across the UK nearly half of all Remain voters accepted the defeat with grace and simply want May to get on with the supreme act of folly it.

Republicans and nationalists should talk about what a united Ireland would look like. But perhaps they need to spend more time in thinking about how to build sufficient trust to get there.

If the NI state was built on sectarian geography (as it assuredly was) it does not stand to reason that it will be undone by inverse but similarly sectarian means. There was a febrile cross-community consensus on Brexit which time and the intensity of the Assembly election has all but wiped out.

My old Long Peace mucker Trevor Ringland has a useful corrective in the form of a letter in today’s Irish Times. I don’t agree with all of it (the Republic’s politicians and government have a duty of care on Northern Ireland as reflected in the British Irish Treaty), but…

…it’s important to keep building relationships across the island. Political unity is a rather far-fetched aspiration for the time being, but perhaps it is possible to work toward a “united people”. One of the things that can help this process is a clear, consistent understanding that the use of violence outside the law to pursue a political aim was and remains wrong, unjustified and unjustifiable.

He concludes:

Peace is predicated on Northern Ireland’s representatives taking responsibility, and striving to make Northern Ireland work in the shorter term, in order to promote their long-term preferences as regards the Border. This must take place in an atmosphere, in both parts of Ireland, that respects the principle of consent and the consequences that flow from the principle.

Irish unity is one of those things that people like to talk about more than to actively pursue through actions or the exploration of shared interests. Both SF and FF are currently doing little to expedite the building a new interconnector that could have multiple benefits north and south.

On those last ten years: not a lot done, a helluva lot more to do.

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  • Smithborough

    A united Ireland hasn’t been a particularly realistic option for most of the last 50 years, yet people are still prepared to fight for it.

    Unrecognised micro-states are hardly unknown. Think of Northern Cyprus or Serbian Krajnia.

  • the moviegoer

    Northern Cyprus exists because of Turkey. Serbian Krajnia existed for four years because of Serbia. This fabled “Ulster Minor” will not be supported by the UK so will never exist.

  • Deeman

    Yugoslavia? Lol. If I see lines of tanks in short strand and artillery being seat up in the Shankill then I will panic. Young people today would be worried about getting their designer trainers dirty. Petrol is too expensive for Molotovs. A bit of road blocking and stone throwing would be the worst.

  • the moviegoer

    Yugoslavia had 23 million people and serious social problems under the Iron Curtain. O’Neill’s reforming agenda was aggressively undermined by Paisleyites in the 1960s, which directly fueled the conflict. There is no equivalent to the Paisleyite faction in Northern Ireland today on either side. Even the DUP are a long way off that level of crazy.

  • Smithborough

    As already noted an objective does not have to be a realistic prospect in order for people to fight for it.

  • Smithborough

    Maybe not, but things change with events. We are a divided society and it tends to make us unstable. The idea that all our problems will come to an end due to a set of political arrangements is wishful thinking in the extreme and simply isn’t borne out by how things work in other countries in the world with similar problems. Most divided sountries don’t experience civil war, but some do and we came very close in 1972 or so. For this reason it is possible that it might happen again.

    I know 3 women of ethnic Croat extraction who went on holidays together to Yugoslavia in 1989 or so. Two of them said it was a wonderful country, the third said that there was going to be a big war there. The third was mocked ruthlessly by the other two for being such a pessimist. The third turned out to be correct.

    I think that back in the 1960s there was a widespread belief that violence could shake up stagnant social systems and bring reform, whereas today people are much less likely to believe that a revolution will bring positive change, so hopefully things won’t get out of hand.

  • Smithborough

    The movement of people is relatively straightforward and could be solved the way that you suggest – after all we generally need ID to board a plane or ferry. The problem is more likely to be with goods and services becaue of the EU common external tarriff. The only ideas that I’ve seen on this one are to give NI “special status” as some sort of quasi-EU region. I cannot see how (or indeed why) the EU would grant this. If they did, would we cease to have access to GB markets (where we do more trade than with EU27)? If we still had access to both EU and GB, we’d end up with a deal that is too good to be true.

  • the moviegoer

    The Provos thought they had a realistic objective though. They thought they could force a British withdrawal. This was mooted by the Labour government in the early 70s so it was not an entirely unrealistic assumption. Even unionists thought this was on the cards and were making plans to declare NI an independent state if it happened. So from the Provos point of view there was a sense of realism to their strategy, at least in the beginning. It wasn’t just mindless anger and wrecking things for the sake of it.

  • Smithborough

    Don’t you just prove my point with this? Subjectively the Provos thought they had a good chance of winning, objectively their campaign destroyed the NI economy, making it completely dependent on the UK, it brought about Direct Rule, more closely integrating NI with GB and it poisoned relations between unionists and nationalists in NI, all things making a United Ireland much less likely. Yet the campaign continued for 25 years, despite all of these things being apparant for maybe 20 of those 25 years.

    Subjectively loyalists will feel aggrieved by a united Ireland. This does not make violence inevitable, but whether any possible loyalist micro-state will be recognised by the UN isn’t really going to be a big factor at play.

  • the moviegoer

    The main difference is Republicans knew that if they forced the British to give up on NI the ROI would take over. A micro-state is not feasible without British support. They may not care about the UN but their aspirations are null and void without the UK. So the conditions that exist for young Protestants post-UI will not be comparable to those which existed for young Catholics in the 70s. I don’t think you can say it would be just the same as it was back then except in reverse. I think loyalists realise this. I have not seen any proposals for repartition or independence from loyalist factions in decades, and nothing of the sort from any credible leaders of unionism. Unionists know a UI is a one-way ticket. They would not even be able to agree on the boundary for a new micro-state as the true Ulster heartland. Where would be the capital? Ballymena? Loyalists can of course threaten violence to gain concessions such as a degree of autonomy over their affairs after a vote but they will be concessions within the context of a UI only.

  • AntrimGael

    I think this is media/ NIO inspired nonsense and wishful thinking on their part. I have NEVER heard ANY Irish Republican/Nationalist/Catholic EVER refer to themselves as Northern Irish.

  • North Down dup

    Is that what the Irish government want, un peacekeepers in there new irel

  • North Down dup

    You would find plenty in Antrim

  • Smithborough
  • North Down dup

    Republicans could only bring parts of ni to a stand still, loyalists could bring a whole country, Irelands army is far to small, the un peacekeepers could be on the streets in a new Ireland as someone said, now do you think the Irish government want this

  • Fear Éireannach

    Of course they don’t want UN peacekeepers, but if there is a backward faction in a limited area trying to keep the 17th century going then what else is there? We’d try and get some from a good Protestant place.

  • Fear Éireannach

    Both Northern Cyprus and Serbian Krajnia.were supported by the mother country. How is the Republic of Serbian Krajina doing anyway?

  • North Down dup

    Won’t be a limited area , all over,

  • Fear Éireannach

    Given that even Catholics are rather Protestant in their way of thinking in Ireland nowadays, the Unionists should just declare victory and join in.

  • Croiteir

    No – but it is. The point being that you need to be able to say what you are fighting for, how do you know it has been achieved, and once achieved what are you going to do next.

  • Croiteir

    We don’t know what we are fighting for but we will know when we get it?

  • Starviking

    I have heard plenty, and am Northern Irish myself.

  • Croiteir

    Were do you get this figure of 13bn from?

  • Croiteir

    Maybe they do not have faith in insitutions

  • Gavin Smithson

    No but I have visited it more times than I can remember

  • Gavin Smithson

    Her mask slipped. Sinn Fein are a nasty, vicious cult

  • Gavin Smithson

    No she didn’t refer to voters as crocodiles. It was SF and it’s a valid analogy

    VOters are not looking for Irish Lanaguage Act. Sinn Fein could ask for a Chinese Language Act and still get votes but that doesn’t mean the people want it.

    Some people want it, yes but a small rather republican pro IRA minority. Let’s face it, why would anyone learn Irish and want to speak it on a daily basis if it’s not their first language. To me it shows their hatred and extremism of all things British.

  • Gavin Smithson

    An independent state in the north east. Comprising East L’Derry, Antrim, N Down & N Armagh.

    Heavily policed enclaves in West Belfast and Moyle would be needed to ensure we are protected against the chronically hostile

    I don’t think nationalists really understand us. We will never accept a united ireland. We give lip service to the principle of 51% changing the status. You can get your 51% someday but a UI will never arise. You can argue all day about this but you may as well argue against the sunrise tomorrow morning.

  • Gavin Smithson

    I don’t regard NI as a colony. Such lefty piffle. It’s not a colony. Of course there are hot heads in Cornwall who would argue the same but people smile at them politely and offer them a cup of tea and a jigsaw puzzle to pass the time.

    Loyalists would campaign in the widest sense possible for an independent state in the NE of the Island of Hibernia

  • Gavin Smithson

    The capital would be Belfast. Population movements no doubt would be a sad outcome

  • the moviegoer

    Without UK support a micro-state is not possible. The only population movements will be voluntary emigration to Britain.

  • the moviegoer

    Out of curiosity, who would provide the Defence Forces for this new country?

  • T.E.Lawrence

    “But first they need to build this new house starting at the foundations” Well here is a little advice ! Keep Martina Anderson well away from building or that constructed “foundation raft’ will soon float away into the Irish Sea Tide ?

  • T.E.Lawrence

    That is an interesting point you have brought up Gavin. I have always thought about that issue of movements of people as I witnessed it in Belfast in the early 70s on both sides and helped evacuate Protestants from certain areas of Belfast. Where would the influx into the city of these protestant refugees go ? They need houses ? I could see Loyalists pushing hard into middle class areas of suburbia to claim such housing requirements for them ?

  • T.E.Lawrence

    How many UN Peacekeeper soldiers do you think is required ? I would assume the 7K PSNI would just evaporate ?

  • Bobbell

    Firstly, forced population transfer, and it would have to be forced, is a crime against humanity under international law. Hardly an auspicious start for the new state.

    Secondly, there is no way the kind of horrific violence this would cause would be tolerated by the UK. The perpetrators would find themselves up against the British Army with no prospect of a Curragh Mutiny to save them.

    Thirdly, the vast majority of unionists are decent, law-abiding people who would never support bloody pogroms.

    Fourthly, even without outside intervention the unionists simply don’t have the strength to do this. The tools of the state (police, army and civil service) are no longer theirs to use as they will.

    An Ulster Protestant micro-state is a fantasy, any attempt to establish it would most likely involve a short and bloody period of violence and end with lots of people in jail.

  • Bobbell

    I think the idea is to move them into the homes of expelled nationalists.

  • T.E.Lawrence

    I can’t see that happening Nationalist/Republican Areas in Belfast too strong for such a manoeuvre !

  • Katyusha

    Some people want it, yes but a small rather republican pro IRA minority. Let’s face it, why would anyone learn Irish and want to speak it on a daily basis if it’s not their first language. To me it shows their hatred and extremism of all things British.

    Sorry, Gavin, but you are so far off the mark it’s terrifying. The Irish language community have nothing to do with a “small republican pro IRA minority”. It’s a cultural movement, and it is disgusting and insulting to see you describe them in such terms, Do you think Linda Ervine and the East Belfast Mission are part of a pro IRA minority? Really?

    Secondly, the introduction of an Irish language act has massive support in the nationalist community. There are swathes if people who want to see the language given official recognition and fostered even if they don’t speak it themselves, and it has become a totemic symbol of how Stormont has frustrated legitimate aspirations and how quickly the DUP renege on their promises. The reason SF had the ILA front and centre of their election campaign was because it is genuinely popular.

    Thirdly, I can tell you that the desire of people to learn and speak Irish has nothing whatsoever to do with the British? Why would it? It would be utterly bizarre if anyone invested the required effort to learn the language for such a petty and nonsensical reason. I studied the language in school and it wasn’t because of hatred or republicanism (I’m not from a republican background, my family would probably disown me if I expressed a wish to learn the language for such a reason).

    I loved the language – it is stunningly rich and beautiful – and felt it was culturally important that I should learn my own native tongue. That’s all there is to it. You might not understand why people want to speak Irish, but you would do well to refrain from criticism of things you do not understand. You just make yourself look silly and twisted otherwise.

  • Bobbell

    Well quite. If we think of unionists as going through something like the five stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance) then this kind of talk would come towards the end of ‘bargaining’.

  • T.E.Lawrence

    I think that you are wrong on your last point acceptance ?

  • Bobbell

    I would very much expect that one day (who knows how long from now) there will be a successful ‘Ulster Christian Democrat’ party sitting in the Dáil and possibly even in coalition government in a united Ireland.

  • Katyusha

    I’d figured as much. No wonder your characterisation was so far off. I did live and work there for over a year and am regularly in the country to spend time with my family there, and your description doesn’t ring true, especially the idea that the English are nicer and less aggressive. I found there was a coldness and lack of empathy, and the country has a massive problem with casual violence. Compared to the Irish and many other nationalities they are colder and less welcoming, but – especially in the middle and upper classes – they can be unerringly polite and formal. Perhaps that is what you meant by “much nicer”. If you think the English are that interesting then you really need to travel more.

    They are much more individualistic, of course, which explains the lack of any sense of community across much of England, amongst many, many other aspects of their character. Individualism is perhaps their defining feature.

    But far be it from me to sum up the English character. If you want a beautiful, on-point characterisation I can again only recommend The Lion and the Unicorn by Orwell, specifically the first essay, England, Your England. A more perfect description of the English national character you will not find. http://orwell.ru/library/essays/lion/english/e_eye

    Of course, things are very different inside the London bubble.

  • Deeman

    Valid point. I think Micheal Martin would be better at foundation and construction in general.

  • Gavin Smithson

    I have spent a cumulative total of 5 years in England on business but i never permanently resided there so I do know a bit about them

    As for the Irish being more welcoming. Well that’s just low impulse control. I find people who are v friendly to strangers can also v quickly turn against you on the turn off a pin.

    The English size people up first before deciding if they want to be friendly. I think this is the more mature and sensible approach to take with people.

    As for individuality vs community. Goodness me, who wants to live in an stifling clannish community.

  • the moviegoer

    So you don’t like Northern Ireland and prefer England. You do realise there is an obvious solution to your quandary?

  • Smithborough

    I doubt that loyalists could bring the whole country to a standstill, things have changed from 1974.

    What in my opinion is more likely is a quickly escalating situation, where people are dragged in by the actons of others. Republican victory celebrations about a united Ireland being attacked by loyalists, republicans responding with violence against Protestant community targets in majority Catholic areas, sectarian violence breaking out more generally, the PSNI unable to cope and the Irish Army coming in and shooting people, in other words the start of the 1969 troubles in reverse.

    I speculated about Yugoslavia above very much as a worst case scenario. This was because it took 21,000 British troops to keep Republican areas under control in the early 1970s. The Irish Army only has 7,500 troops, so it won’t be able to keep the loyalist community under control in the same way if things escalate badly. Neither the Irish Army nor loyalists are as heavily armed as the factions in Yugoslavia were, so hopefuly even in a worst case scenario things won’t go that far.

    When it comes to population movements and “pogroms”, if these happen they will almost certainly be on both sides. That sadly is the logic of our conflict.

  • Smithborough

    Most people in countries such as Bosnia or Lebanon didn’t decide that they really wanted an ethnic civil war and lots of ethnic micro entities. The divergent views and asperatons of different groups and most importantly the belief (rightly or wrongly) that violence was necessary for self-defence put them on a collision course and things escalated from there.

    Forced population transfers are not a good start to a new state, but Croatia is now an EU member, despite the ethnic cleansing of Krajinia in 1995. It doesn’t seem to have been punished much.

    Sectarian micro states may be a fantasy, but Lebanon was a series of sectarian micro entities between 1975 and 1990. Just because something is unrealistic doesn’t mean people won’t fight for it if they think their backs are against the wall.

  • the moviegoer

    The British Army backed up the Free State Army in the 1922-1923 Civil War against Republicans. The same will happen in this context.

  • Smithborough

    So after a vote for a united Ireland the British army will be expected to pacify any rebelling loyalists. Given that the British Army is half the size that it was in the 1970s, I wonder how many troops they will be expected to provide for this enterprise?

  • the moviegoer

    Yes of course they will. Why wouldn’t they? They moved into Iraq and Afghanistan to spread democracy.

  • the moviegoer

    The factions in Bosnia and Lebanon were all supported by various foreign powers. Who will provide loyalists with arms? Who will trade with them? Who will call for New Ulster to be recognized as a nation state? Wars can’t be fought on grievance alone no matter how strong the depth of feeling.

  • Smithborough

    In other words, if they believed that Tony Blair was telling them the truth, they might just believe Gerry Adams….

  • Smithborough

    Who supported the Provos?

  • the moviegoer

    There will be a transition period between a vote and unification actually happening. Negotiations will have to take place. The British will still be in charge and responsible for security during that period. So hopefully good leadership can get the best possible deal for unionists and tempers will be calmed by the time of the changeover.

  • the moviegoer

    Libya, Irish-America, PLO, ETA, FARC.

  • North Down dup

    Yes I agree with most of that, Drumcree standoff peacefull roadblocks brought ni to a standstill , if there was a UI those roadblocks won’t be peaceful, then the rest of your post could come to the forefront

  • Croiteir

    And you seriously think that the rest of Ireland, the EU and Britain would allow that to happen, but go ahead I triple dare ye.

  • SleepyD

    Twelve months ago I would have said we were still a generation away from a united ireland. With Brexit, Indyref2 and our own recent election I now predict we are within an “SNP generation” of, at least, a border poll. Unfortunately Mick I can’t take you seriously on this particular subject due to your bias. The end game is a united ireland with the DUP being the unintentional flag bearers. Surprisingly it’s not a personal preference for me.

  • Barneyt

    My understanding is NI needs 25 bill to operate and generates in the order of 12 itself. Net loss to UK gov is 13. Figures may have changed of late but these are ballpark accurate I believe