This interesting discussion on Talkback featuring our own David McCann was sparked by Graham Gudgin’s impassioned OpEd plea in the Irish Times yesterday. Here’s the pinch-point:
If I was to ask a woman to begin a relationship and then refuse to take no for an answer, week after week, year after year, it would of course count as harassment. Article after article on Irish unity, when the answer is always the same, should be seen in the same light.
The 2016 Life and Times Survey, taken after the Brexit referendum, showed a four to one majority in Northern Ireland for staying in the UK, including a two to one majority among Catholics. What is it about “no” that is so difficult for opinion in the Republic to understand?
Sometimes it is hard to know whether to laugh or cry. One suggestion, apparently without irony, is that the UK may wish to pay the Republic €10 billion a year to fund Northern Ireland within a unified Ireland.
It ignores the fact that UK voters have recently taken the drastic step of voting to leave the EU, in large part to save exactly this sum of money flowing to Brussels.
David deals with most of this with civility and detail on some of the poorly reported/understood aspects of life in the Republic. However, I think Graham’s strongest point – in both the interview and the oped – is this:
A harsh wind blowing from Dublin just makes northern unionists huddle more tightly together around the DUP. Better instead to do what was promised in the Belfast Agreement and continue to build the best of good neighbourly relations.
The current northern Republican leadership propensity to turn drama into crisis exaggerates this effect, and some of SF (and SDLP) positions over welfare reform actively increase dependence on UK state subsidy (locking in rather than moving out).
David also makes the point that state mendicancy arguments are making its way into mainstream unionist thinking too. It’s a useful presentation of what we might call a civic Republicanism that’s been long awaited, and much needed.
These conversations almost always come to the fore in the vacuum of a crisis, which in themselves occur because of the lack of ambition on the part of unionism and nationalism. One caller suggests the retreat to the big picture is a post Brexit panic.
He may have a point. But, if he is correct, and if Irish Republicanism is to have any influence on NI’s future, it needs to stop panicking and start to develop its own serious asks in the face of such large constitutional change.
The emergence of a calmer more serious form of civic Republicanism (that doesn’t need the constant reassurance of asking for a border poll every five minutes) could be a start.
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty