Interesting article by Aiden Corkery in yesterdays Sunday Business Post on the new Shared Island Unit to be established within the Department of the Taoiseach.
In it he quotes the views of the former Fianna Fail TD and advisor, Martin Mansergh
Martin Mansergh, the former Fianna Fáil TD and adviser to Bertie Ahern during the Good Friday Agreement, disagreed. He said he believed the new unit would be more focused on the more pragmatic details of north-south cooperation.
These included the proposed cross-border A5 motorway project to connect Dublin to Derry and the Ulster Canal connection from Clones to Upper Lough Erne, both of which were mentioned in the programme for government, he said.
“To a degree it’s just a renaming of the Northern Ireland section that was always in the Taoiseach’s office,” Mansergh told the Business Post.
He said that Martin clearly favoured an “evolutionary” approach towards achieving a united Ireland rather than trying to push unionists into one.
“My own view is that you damage the case for a united Ireland if you hold an unsuccessful poll and that’s quite apart from the disruption and destabilisation that would be caused,” he said.
There has been some ambiguity about just what purpose the unit will have. There was an exchange in the Dail between Aontu Leader, Peadar Toibin and Micheal Martin over a border poll and the unit
“The GFA is about relationships. It has long been about relationships. It’s not about declaring my will is the best will.” pic.twitter.com/Rgk24vRbYL
— Fianna Fáil (@fiannafailparty) July 7, 2020
There has always been reticence from the Irish government since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement about talking about a border poll or making any detailed preparations for one. But I feel that this type of approach contentiously misses the point. As the former DUP Leader, Peter Robinson said just a few years back you don’t buy house insurance with the expectation that it will catch fire. It may well be the will of the government that it doesn’t believe the prospect of Irish Unity is on the horizon, but as with the European debate in the UK or the COVID 19 pandemic, it makes sense to look at all the options that can face the future of the country.
This unit is in the process of being established. It has an important task ahead of pursuing better areas of engagement between the Executive and the Irish government, but it also should be looking at the building blocks needed for reunification. Not out of any republican fervour, but out of simple common sense. Unification can happen, a border poll can happen and be won.
The planning doesn’t need to be up in lights and it doesn’t particularly need to be examining the most interesting topics in the world, but it should help contribute and develop part of how we move forward. As the economics of COVID and Brexit take shape on our island, it would be folly to think that this could not be a possibility and this unit could play a valuable role in working out these issues.
The Shared Island Unit doesn’t have to be either for cooperation or unification. It can do both. One deals with day to day realities and projects, the other is a longer term project looking more at community relations. Neither will make front page news or set the world on fire, but that is not the point. It is the patient and determined work that needs to be done and should be something that an Irish government, led by Fianna Fail embraces with energy and consideration.
Since Sean Lemass, every Fianna Fail Leader has left their own mark on the Northern Ireland file. From cooperation to the Hillsborough Agreement. All of this work was an important step towards better relations and essential unity on this island. The current Taoiseach, will have until the end of 2021 to make his mark in that tradition. Starting the detailed planning for what could become a New Ireland, would be an immense contribution to this island and further the legacy of his predecessors.
“Dáil Éireann – Election of Taoiseach – 27 June 2020” by Houses of the Oireachtas is licensed under CC BY
David McCann holds a PhD in North-South relations from University of Ulster. You can follow him on twitter @dmcbfs