Gerry Adams ups the ante on Unity, just as it comes under fresh critical examination

 Gerry Adams knows  exactly  how to deploy  sweet reasonableness as a weapon and end up  with a perfect circle of  obstruction.

He had had several “businesslike, friendly engagements” with DUP leader Arlene Foster since the talks began, and he had “no reason to doubt” she was innocent of accusations over the “cash for ash” Renewable Heat Initiative which precipitated this month’s Northern Assembly election.

However, the affair needed to be “properly scrutinised”.

Why block a resolution of the impasse if you believe she’s innocent? When did you start believing that? Before or after Sinn Fein quit the Executive?  What changed your mind?

However, Mr Adams said the issue of Sinn Féin blocking Ms Foster’s nomination would not arise until after an agreement to resuscitate the Executive was reached. At present, there was no sign of such an agreement, he indicated.

Mr Adams said the Irish Government had to be part of the effort to persuade unionists to join a united Ireland. “A section of unionism is unlikely to move while the British government underpins their position, and the Irish Government has to tackle that.”

Now you’re talking Gerry. So it’s a united Ireland or nothing? For today anyway?  Mere details, even the future of elective institutions, do not detain a man of destiny.  

 In their branded series Ireland’s Call and in  other well flagged –up sections of the  paper, the Irish Times has been a reliable barometer of every twist and turn of Brexit  jitters ever since 23 June. The net effect is of the paper striking a balance between resisting euphoria over the possible implications for a united Ireland in the Sinn Fein surge, and despair over the feared implications of Brexit.

Ever the northern contrarian, Newton Emerson has identified a departure from the familiar  southern partitionist mindset which blanks out all things northern. He speculates  that ”a newly energised” Sinn Fein’s latest rise in the Republic’s polls to a record 23%, one point ahead of Fine Gael is due to the “thrilling tribal slap-down” they delivered to the DUP in the Assembly election.  If true this would be a change of  reaction to Sinn Fein refusing to accept welfare cuts (mostly later cancelled) and blocking the northern budget  in order to harmonise with their anti- austerity campaign in the  Republic. Nobody in the south knew or cared about anything as boring as Sinn Fein’s block on northern welfare policy, nor do they care about the failure to pass a budget now. Perhaps it was economic recovery in the Republic that prevented a read-across the border and failed to fuel a Sinn Fein surge in the Republic in time for the 1916 centenary?  Or perhaps the  rise in the southern polls now, just ahead of Fine Gael, can partly be explained by  the circumstances of Enda’s long goodbye, hastened by his crash car in the Garda McCabe affair?

 

Our common preference for elevating identity politics far above the practical is given a rude shock by the sort of analysis of the cost of Irish unity that is usually reserved for Scottish independence.   The example of German reunification greatly attracts the Taoiseach. But there are other less welcome parallels, like the cost of 2 trillion euros.   “Irish unification would involve some of the same issues encountered in Germany”, writes  Edgar Morgenroth  an associate research professor at the Economic and Social Research Institute. A united Ireland within the EU with a hard economic border with Britain would be a bad bargain for the north:

The latest data suggests that Northern Irish manufacturing firms sell more of their goods to Britain than they sell in Northern Ireland, the Republic and the rest of the EU combined.

This suggests that Irish unity might have a bigger negative effect on Northern Ireland, at least over the short- to medium-term, than Brexit

Pensions liability for the north would start with adding  64 billion euros to the  Republic’s existing 98 billion but might be revised either up or down. And then there’s the little matter of the £10 billion “ subvention” from Westminster. Morgenroth carefully adds that unification is  largely “a political matter.  (ah sure it’s only money,” is not his language).  He says German reunification is generally regarded as a success, which indeed it is.

Unity is wishful thinking, writes  John Cushnahan , a Falls- reared man who was  both leader of the Alliance party and a Fine Gael MEP, now living in the south.

I would like to remind Sinn Féin that voters in the Republic of Ireland would also simultaneously have to indicate endorsement of a united Ireland for it to become a realistic option.

This being so, I would like the Sinn Féin parliamentary party in Dáil Eireann to spell out in detail how the Republic’s taxpayers are going to fund the €8-€10 billion annually that some experts have stated would be required to absorb Northern Ireland.

Although Northern Ireland’s farmers would be better off in a united Ireland because they would be guaranteed the continuation of Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) payments, they would still, like their southern counterparts, face significant problems selling their produce into a non-EU United Kingdom market.

And it is reasonable to conclude that taxpayers in the Republic would be unable to fund Northern Ireland’s education, health and social welfare budgets in a post-Brexit united Ireland, given the likely impact of Brexit on our own economy.

Surprisingly for a political editor who is  a reporter first, Stephen Collins gives  his blunt bottom line  opinion on the big issue, characterising the recent  heavy churn  as “a  campaign for a united Ireland.”

 The emerging campaign for a united Ireland, led by Sinn Féin and tamely followed by Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, indicates that Irish nationalism has learned nothing from the events of the past 100 years.        If history tells us anything it is that the one way to ensure a united Ireland does not come reality is for a pan-nationalist front to demand its implementation.

There is no doubt that Brexit has put the future of the UK into the melting pot. The arrogance and stupidity of the Conservative Party, which did so much to make the process of Irish independence bitter and violent 100 years ago, has now put the future of the entire UK at risk.

However, by moving immediately to campaign for a united Ireland nationalism has repeated the old mistake of underestimating the depth of unionist feeling. The louder the demand for a united Ireland the stronger unionist resistance will become.

The second and even more serious problem is that, even if at some point there is a majority in the North for unity, there would still be resistance and possibly violent resistance from a significant loyalist minority. The prospect of loyalist terrorism against an Irish State struggling with the massive economic shock of unity is a terrifying prospect.

While it is possible that, in time, a significant segment of Ulster unionism might reassess its traditional loyalties, in the light of the indifference with which the British government has for its welfare, pushing for a united Ireland will only delay that day.

Like most  Irish commentators, Collins dismisses  the Conservative position over Brexit as arrogant and stupid. In so doing  he discounts the  pressures on the UK government from millions of English people uneasy  at the extent of ethnic change and static wage growth that led to the Brexit result.  Overwhelmingly, these  took precedence over the cohesion of the Union, and the impact of Brexit on Ireland.

The threat to the Union is as much about its asymmetry, with the concerns of 52 million English weighed against those of 12 million others. The  “others”  with their regional assemblies  have more leverage than the  far more  numerous English –  except when it really matters. Demonising the Tories is always tempting but it has its risks, as even Nicola Sturgeon may find out .

 

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London