On Enda’s fondness for the precedent of German reunification, be careful of what you wish for

 The Irish government are entitled to congratulate themselves on their achievement in persuading the EU 26 to declare that if the North joined the Republic the new state would automatically inherit the Republic’s membership. Dublin hastens to add that this incorporates the  consent principle enshrined in the GFA and they are opposed to an early border poll.

But the future of the open border is a completely different issue. Irish Times coverage ranges from euphoria about the declaration to nervousness about the EU’s opening position on the Brexit negotiations. This from Cliff Taylor headlined:. Is Ireland really top of May and Merkel’s Brexit agenda?

 But the problem is that when the talks get down and dirty as it will – it is not clear how much this will count. There is a significant risk that the Brexit negotiations could hit trouble early on, over the size of the Brexit divorce bill which Britain must pay. And beyond that there is a complete lack of clarity over whether Theresa May’s government is willing to make the kind of concessions which would make a softer Brexit possible.


If the talks dictate a “hard” Brexit – either via negotiations or worse via a collapse of negotiations – then we will be exposed. We need a plan B to try to limit the damage – and to capitalise where we can in areas such as the attraction of financial services. And a taoiseach heading for the exit door is not in a position to lead the urgent development of this.


In the case of a hard Brexit, a Border of some kind will return. And the outlook for trade with the UK will be severely damaged. This is why part of the Irish case is to push the EU not to go too hard on the UK in relation to the exit bill. We need these talks to stay on the rails.

  On Radio  4 ‘s Today programme David Trimble in mischievous mood, pointed out that as the UK was going for completely free trade, it would be the EU and not the UK that would levy tariffs. Any customs checks therefore would be imposed south and not north of the border.

As for Irish unification, Dublin’s argument in favour of the of precedent of  German reunification  is impressive but not altogether helpful. This article in  Der Spiegel  typifies the general verdict and draws attention to  daunting economic problems  that identity junkies tend to ignore.

The year after the Berlin Wall fell, East Germans got “shock therapy” in the form of abrupt capitalism after 40 years of a state-controlled economy. Twenty-five years ago today, East Germans adopted the West’s Deutschmark as the fiscal stage of the country’s reunification began, and the effects are still felt today. As Greece grapples with possible default and an exit from the euro zone, it’s the perfect time to remember the lessons from the Deutschmark.

When the idea of fiscal unification first started floating around in early 1990, a popular chant arose in East Germany: “Kommt die D-Mark, bleiben wir, kommt sie nicht, geh’n wir zu ihr!” (If the Deutschmark comes, we’ll stay here; if it doesn’t, we’ll go to her).


The public demanded a one-to-one exchange, and on July 1, 1990, the banks in the former GDR opened to lines people waiting to get their hands on Deutschmarks at the unbelievable exchange rate of 1:1.


The radical privatization and rapid introduction of foreign trade constituted a deadly one-two punch to the East German economy. By the mid-’90s, East German industrial production had fallen 27 percent from 1988 levels, Ther writes. Thousands of enterprises went bankrupt, and in many regions unemployment rose to more than 30 percent.

Fiscal reunification wasn’t an easy ride.


In the four years after reunification, 1.4 million East Germans left their homes, negating the common assumption that a fast fiscal reunification would prevent a mass exodus from the GDR. The crash of the East German economy overwhelmed the federal budget and taxed the already overloaded social system. A sharp increase in social inequality was the price of reunification, along with an economic gap between old and new German states that has still not evened out.

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  • Tochais Siorai

    Technically, all of Ireland left the UK as per the 1921 Anglo Irish treaty. However, a provision in that treaty allowed the NI parliament to vote to secede from the newly established Irish Free State which they duly did.

  • Korhomme

    Indeed, and IIRC, NI seceded after a day. I suppose it could be said that, actually, both parts were once united, even if that union was very short lived.

    I’m not against a united Ireland/reunion; rather, I don’t see it as quite as simple, or even as a given, as others do.

  • Gravychipplease

    Agreed and of course Norn Iron is not a communist state with all the hindrances that it provides when trying to place catch up with its bigger capitalist brother!!!

  • Philip Murphy

    Thx Mark. Seems like attitudes on the ground are nowhere near as conservative as either existing NI laws or political representatives would suggest.

  • Reader

    Kevin Breslin: Once again Reader you have no evidence to support your own nonsense butyour own gullible willingness to believe any propaganda the UK government tell you.
    Kevin, you made the claim: “…and the United Kingdom by leaving the customs union still has an obligation to enforce customs either side of the border.”. Therefore, it is your job to back it up. Provide the evidence. You haven’t even said whether you are basing your claim on International law, WTO rules or anything else, let alone provided chapter and verse.

  • Kevin Breslin

    The UK has to enforce its own customs … the idea that the UK is going to remove the “C” from HMRC for the convenience of dreamland libertarians like yourself who’ve never done an ounce of trade in the real world is a contemptible farce.

    The Norway/Sweden precedence has customs enforcement on both sides of the border by both sides. The same with Switzerland and Austria. The same with all of the EU’s external borders bar Monaco and the Vatican.

    David Trimble’s pipe dream about Divine Britain saving little Northern Ireland from a Demonic EU is pretty much meaningless given that David Trimble has said that Northern Ireland being a small part of the United Kingdom means its problems with the border will become irrelevant.

    Both the United Kingdom and the European Union are human institutions, it’s only the Brexiters’ deluded belief in the divine providence of their opinions is why Brexit is going to be so hard and so difficult.

    Also How do you know that the UK doesn’t want to stop imports from the EU … do you have evidence to back it up? Nope.

    You don’t have any evidence to say that the United Kingdom government does not want to stop or curtail imports from the European Union.

    That’s why I find you Leavers so amusing, as a scientist I look for tangible things and legal declarations agreed between states … your scepticism stops when someone tells you the things you want to hear.

    I have often said that some Brexiteers would repeal the Laws of Thermodynamics if they knew about them.

  • eamoncorbett

    Painting post boxes won’t be a problem in a few years simply because there won’t be any.

  • Jeremy Cooke

    As long as you make the trains run on time

  • Jeremy Cooke

    Never, never, never!

  • Jeremy Cooke

    I would have thought by now someone would have explained to me nicely but firmly that I am a twat and pointed to this plan of action; they haven’t yet.

    I suspect there isn’t one as everybody spent all their time scoring points of one and another over vital issues like what days what flags could fly from what building.

  • NotNowJohnny

    The “WE” implies there is more than one of you. Who is this other person?

  • Roger

    It will certainly be an unhappy marriage if there is no change. Ireland can’t afford the status quo in Northern Ireland. Of that there is no doubt.

  • file

    Obligations are one thing; what it agrees to do is another. Look at the amount of money the UK gave to the Free State soon after it was set up by releasing it from its Imperial debt and pension liabilities.

  • james

    “I believe in the event of a UI the 26 counties will be very generous re flags, language, marches, culture, etc.”

    That raises an interesting point. How do you think the Irish state would elect to handle ‘contentious’ Orange parades in areas like Ardoyne?

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Roger, you obviously don’t speak to these people off the record. I’ve as yet to meet anyone form any of the larger Westminster parties who have the slightest interest in holding on to NI. UKIP perhaps……

  • Roger

    We’ve disagreed on this before and continue to do so. “What we have, we hold” is the prevailing mentality. Judge actions, not just words though there are plenty of words to judge by to. We have nearly a century of experience to go by. More really as it pre-dates partition.

    Jeremy Corbyn is an exception. Teresa May is not.

  • Roger

    There was a quid pro quo there (quashing boundary report) and rather a different context (aftermath of a civil war where; a dominion the U.K. still regarded as under Westminster ultimate control; post-civil war with Republican bogey men in background; a poor weak new dominion who still had land annuity obligations to pay too). U.K. has an interest in Ireland doing well. Example Loan to Ireland Act 2010. But realistically the U.K. isn’t going to fund enlarged Ireland. In my view that is totally unrealistic.

  • Philip Murphy

    I’m honestly wondering how much longer the UK will be able (or willing) to maintain the status quo. English nationalism is in the ascendancy.

  • Roger

    They’ve managed it pretty well for nearly a century. No sign the show is about to stop.

  • Reader

    Kevin Breslin: The Norway/Sweden precedence has customs enforcement on both sides of the border by both sides.
    Not a great example – I’m guessing you read from the Irish Times article, which said: “The reason for the curious contraband: EU imposes a 9.6 per cent duty on imported foreign garlic, while Norway imposes no garlic import duty meaning extra vigilance is required. Other frequent smuggled goods are alcohol and cigarettes – both expensive in Sweden but even pricier in Norway, making them attractive for smugglers.”
    So – Sweden (EU) needs customs posts because of import tariffs, but Norway (non-EU) only wants them because of Fuel and Alcohol.
    And of course, in Ireland we have been dealing with (i.e. mostly ignoring) differences in fuel and alcohol duty for decades without customs posts. British pragmatism in such matters must be really stressful for some personality types.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Sorry I forgot the UK had St Peter and St Michael protecting its border from contraband to enforce its divine pragmatism.

    Seriously, the Brexiters love to complain, but their contrarian nature they have absolutely no practical answers to practical problems. I think it’s naive to think the UK is merely going to constrain customs checks to feul and alcohol.

    Economic self-preservation will increase that list significantly.

    Let’s recall that the UK minister with “responsibility” suggested the UK should settle for WTO terms, which means the UK would have to treat Irish goods as they would goods from Guatemala, Togo, Armenia or Bhutan. Far worse than anything the EU ever came up with.

    The idea that the UK is going to get as good a deal as Norway has, seems utterly proposterous to me at this stage. The U.K. Leave movement have too much “tunnel vision” to work hard enough to deserve one.

    Since you are happy to attack personality types who like physical evidence and are skeptical of Brexit evangelists who simply rely on words?

    Do you believe in homeopathy Mr Reader?

    What about vaccines causing autism?

    What type of personality type should I have to gullibly believe the people who knowingly lied on their election literature to get their precious half-baked Brexit?

    When should I treat the Brexiters like “experts” rejecting all evidence and reality in order to put their egos and their feelings above any common sense that I have?

  • Kevin Breslin

    Both Sinn Féin and the SDLP have megaphones, but Irish nationalism in the north is more than just them.

  • Kevin Breslin

    You mean like Alex Kane’s republicanism?

  • Philip Murphy

    No they haven’t. NI was economically viable initially, more so than the Free State. It lost its viability later, largely due to the conflict and has not regained it yet.

  • Roger

    The “it” I referred to is your “status quo”. Not a tiger economy etc. There is no sign they’re about to be unable to “maintain the status quo”.

  • Korhomme

    That we can agree upon; even if others don’t like the description ‘basket case’, at present it certainly fits NI. And yes, the Republic could not support NI at present; but the rUK might think that tapering off the subsidy over, say, 25, years well worth it to get rid of the problem.

    Nonetheless, I’m concerned that the ‘psychological’ adjustment for the population of both parts might be harder to overcome than the money.

  • the Moor

    How many times did Theresa May say she definitely wasn’t for calling a snap election until she called one? The answer as an analogue of realpolitik belies the true motives of government parties in power. Repetition of convenient mantras tend to bear little if any relationship with/to the real state of things. The Westminster parliament has had no real interest in retaining Northern Ireland within the Yookay since, at the latest, circa 1940 (when Churchill indicated willingness to facilitate reunification in exchange for Eire entering the war on the British side). The concession of devolved authority to a partisan unionist state in the north in 1921/2 (and consolidated in 1948) was an expedient solution, intended to innoculate the problem of Ireland from HMG through a policy of active uninterest – until that is the asymmetrical nature of the partitionist settlement reared-up in the second half of the 1960s. Make no mistake, the governing parties and ruling interests in the British state and economy would/will be done with NI in a heartbeat if/when the politics allow.

  • Superfluous

    I think cars are a bad example (since you will need to get a license plate at some point). The UK is not a country which feeds itself (albeit Northern Ireland probably is). A more relevant example to Northern Ireland therefore might be beef – imagine the arbitrage profits to be made by declaring that the steak was reared in Northern Ireland, when in fact it was magicked across the border in the middle of the night. You’d dodge those WTO taxes and be able to sell freely across the UK.

  • Steven Denny

    Roger, a little bit of trivia. The Loan to Ireland Act was the 1st official UK recognition of the name of “Ireland” for the country. Prior to this it was the Republic of Ireland, and had been disputed since the 20’s until the GFA, and then this act had been the 1st time to use it etc…

  • file

    But I told you we could bill them for criminal underinvestment in sewage system since 1920 … and other things.

  • Roger

    That would be interesting if it were true. But it’s not. The 1998 Belfast Agreement and several pieces of related and totally separate legislation before that 2010 Act use current nomenclature.

  • grumpy oul man

    But the bit called Northern Ireland laws are different from Great Britain, I think that was Phillips point.

  • grumpy oul man

    Oh well, better just call the whole thing off then. After all history tells us that when a Unionist says never then that’s it,

  • grumpy oul man

    No import or export tariffs, right so no money in the government coffers on trade,
    This is a wonderful idea, a free for all, obviously the money lost to the economy will be recovered by higher taxation elsewhere or saved by closing schools hospitals etc.

  • grumpy oul man

    New territory, new demographics, new Constitution, maybe even a new flag and name but not a new state.

  • grumpy oul man

    James, the republic will deal with it ok, you can bet you’re shirt that they won’t tolerate the Loyalist terror group involvement.
    And since the OO have admitted they have lost the right to offend people then if there word can be trusted ( do you think they are not honest enough to keep there word) it won’t be a problem.

  • Smithborough

    Except for being a cIvil servant..

  • Roger

    That’s the law for you.

  • Roger

    “Indicated willingness”**

    **Subject no doubt to agreement of the then Government of Northern Ireland.


    The reluctant landlord simply hasn’t found that heartbeat in, how many centuries now?

  • james

    Ok, then. What do you think would constitute appropriate counter-terrorism methods for the Irish government in dealing with Loyalist paramilitaries? Be specific, please.

    Can you also direct me to where OO ‘admitted they have lost the right to offend people’. I must have missed that.

  • grumpy oul man

    Well I imagine that the civil law will be applied, the loyalists are too busy selling drugs and exploiting the loyalist People to stage any sort of revolt.
    As for admitting they no longer have a right to offend, did you miss the climbdown over Twaddle.
    But interesting they you have so little respect for democracy that you advise violence if a vote goes against them.
    What would be the point of such violence, what would be the goal

  • grumpy oul man

    No, that’s the law!

  • the Moor

    River in Egypt, Roger! While your blind faith in the benevolence of the British state and autonomy of the NI government (1922-72) is touching, it fails to accord with the documentary accounts. Don’t take my word for it, check the historical record. Churchill offered De Valera a deal that would have ended partition in exchange for Irish entry into the war. The EU caveat on inclusion of NI in future may yet turn out to be a signal step on the rising road to reunification of the island. The lifespan of NI will no doubt exceed the century mark but one suspects not by much.

  • Roger

    Churchill did no such thing.
    A nation once again…

  • Roger

    “The United Kingdom will at once seek to attain the assent of the Government of Northern Ireland inso far as the plan affects Northern Ireland.”

    Extract from 1940 memorandum supposed by some to contain an “offer” of a United Ireland.

  • the Moor

    You seem temperamentally ill-prepared to acknowledge the subaltern status of NI during the period of its devolved authority from Westminster. In truth, the autonomy of the province and the arms-length policy maintained by the British was always contingent upon the priority of British interests. (How could it otherwise?) Your citation from the 1940 memorandum is selective and much too literally-minded for the calculated imprecision of diplomatic speech. Disinterested historians do not disagree on the matter. Excerpted just now from (admittedly not a disinterested source, but do triangulate, the record is incontrovertible):

    ” …

    In June 1940 the British government was desperate to get back the treaty ports which they had given to Ireland in 1938. They began negotiations with the Irish government to see what it would take for Ireland to ally itself with Britian and give back the ports. The Irish wanted ideally to remain neutral but they hinted that a British declaration in favour of a united Ireland might change their attitude.

    There were three meetings in all and the British became more accepting of Irish desires. In early July Neville Chamberlain wrote to De Valera saying Britian was willing to make a solemn declaration in favor of unity and would also establish a joint body to examine how unity would be established. Ireland could stay neutral only having to give over the treaty ports. Lord Craigavon when he was finally informed sent an outraged telegram to the British government protesting the negotiations with the Irish. In the end however the Irish side did not accept the British offers and the matter lapsed.


    Details are in this book. 1940: Myth and Reality: Amazon.co.uk: Clive Ponting: Books

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Indeed we will continue to disagree Roger, and I imagine will continue to do so until the matter is settled in a few years time by re-unification. “Actions” which are still very much “in process” prove nothing, and, really, the Romanovs could have claimed three centuries of experience in 1917!

    “What we have we hold” is a slogan driven (like the exit from Europe) by a plethora of sentimental misconceptions which certainly do not reflect on the perceived illogicality for the “real people” over the water of holding onto a province which a century of Unionism has reduced from being a strong financial asset to the UK to the status of a gross liability, as one of those nine of the ten poorest regions in northern Europe which the UK can boast. When the realities of being out with the financial wolves becomes clear to Westminster in about two years time, the demand to ditch such liabilities as NI will be irresistible.

  • james

    “But interesting they you have so little respect for democracy that you advise violence if a vote goes against them.”

    Where did I ‘advise violence’? That’s a blatant lie on your part. I don’t condone violence at all.

    “What would be the point of such violence, what would be the goal”(?)

    Loyalist violence always has been (and would be) as pointless, unjustifiable, and as nakedly self-serving as the IRA criminal violence that they ape.

  • Roger

    Not a word of that excerpt was inconsistent with what was in the memo I quoted from. “Establish a joint body to establish how unity would be established”…. It could be established, no doubt, with the consent of the Parliament of Northern Ireland!

    No need for a Joint Body if Unionists were to be ignored. Just Westminster legislation. Churchill never offered a United Ireland.

  • the Moor

    I’m guessing it may be significant that rather than engage with the nuanced implications of what is after all historigraphical common knowledge that you choose to deny an inconvenient truth contained in the equivocal phrasing of the time, in order, presumably, not to trouble your rather blunt worldview on the history of relations between Britain and Ireland.

  • Roger

    I tend not to readily accept things as “common knowledge”. To do so could indeed leave me with a “blunt worldview”.

  • aquifer

    The comparison with the two Germanys is not appropriate. The UK and ROI currently have the same economic system, same companies even, and common law legal systems. There is already a common travel area and social and family traffic between North and South. People are making too much of the differences, and lessening them is likely to be a good thing. The NI private sector could do with some hybrid vigour.

  • Roger

    You are an optimist…or pessimist depending on one’s point of view.

  • Deeman

    Thankfully NI doesnt have a private sector worth worrying about so that is a relief. Isnt Germany the biggest economy in Europe after Reunification? Exciting times ahead for a new ireland….

  • SeaanUiNeill

    No Roger, just someone with both eyes and ears attuned to what is going on behind the public pronouncements. And with every twist in the UK government’s ill conceived negotiations for the retreat from Europe a rapid re-unification of what should never have been sundered in the first place looks ever more likely…….

  • Skibo

    I could never understand why Gerry Adams was not included but then you can only have one Nationalist to one Unionist!

  • Skibo

    Very unfair on the North. There are plenty of good companies in the North that will grow even more within a reunited Ireland.
    Ther was a previous post in 2012 where Translink were fifth and Royal Mail was the sixth largest employer. I assume after reunification the trains and busses will continue to run and the mail will be delivered.

  • SDLP supporter

    Very droll. Tom Lehrer said that he gave up doing satire when Henry Kissinger and Menachim Begin won the Nobel Peace Prize. The thought of Adams as a Nobel Peace Laureate brings the phrase ‘beyond satire’ to a whole new level.

  • Skibo

    Who else do you think could have brought the Republican side on line of the peace process? Who was seem going to whom’s house?

  • SDLP supporter

    But Gerry was never in the ‘RA, so he must have been a message boy.

    Anyway, I have been to John Hume’s door in Rosemount, but I don’t expect to get a Nobel medal for it.

    Anyway, maybe Shane Paul O’Doherty, an IRA man who, in his own terms, ‘walked the walk’ had it right: Adams, and especially McGuinness engineered the 1994 ceasefire because the net was closing and to save their own skins,

    As I’ve said before, Gerry’s greatest service to his ‘movement’ was getting rid of the guns and semtex )most of) before 9/11.

  • Skibo

    I think it should be noted that the IRA were not defeated and the Hume Adams talks happened a long time before the ceasefires.
    It is very easy to belittle the work that both Adams and McGuinness did but there would have been no peace talks without them.
    There would have been an IRA without them though.

  • Fear Éireannach

    yes, but it will be Republican mail and not Royal mail.

  • Skibo

    Either way fear an phoist will have to be paid. Euro or sterling.

  • John Collins

    Well Sean McBride, a former leader of the IF A,(iPhone playing up) and a great man of peace, won both the Nobel and Lenin Peace Prizes, the only man to do so.

  • Sean Danaher

    I’m not sure it is of interest but I’ve posted an analysis on our new progressive pulse site; probably from a Southern perspective though I now live in Northumberland having had a successful career as a professor in the UK academic system (I’ve lived in England since 1981)

  • Jeremy Cooke

    I suspect – without knowing too much about AK – more like Andy Pollak