Copper Fastening Stormont provides the smoothest path to an agreed Island

Michael Martin has a long record in politics and is undoubtedly part of the Good Friday generation in his understanding of North-South relations. His shared Island Unit can only be the result of a thirst to implement the agreement in full without an obsession over the simplistic narrative of a border poll to fix all ills. His re-focus on local projects to lift up long forgotten border communities should be applauded by all (the detail of which has been sadly ignored by many quarters).

On structural commitments, Martin could signal his seriousness about sharing this Island by further underpinning the Republic’s respect and recognition of Northern Institutions. The Republic generously gave up its constitutional claim on all the lands, territories and Islands of Ireland in the long process of achieving peace. Overnight this unionist ‘trump card’ was extinguished as it became clear that the NI polity was seen as a neutral space by Dublin and London.

To mark his seriousness Martin should pass legislation declaring that, as a legal default, Stormont as currently constituted will remain in any new Ireland. To copper fasten this, a constitutional amendment could be added to Bunreacht na hÉireann. Currently Stormont is governed by the three strands and every piece of law must be in line with the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (ECHR). By recognising this as a default in the Republic’s statute book it would provide a check and balance to both Northern communities.

It isn’t too dissimilar to the commitment made by the European Union to Ireland in the wake of Brexit. The institutions of Brussels made a commitment that in the event of unification, there would be no issues with Ireland’s EU membership and that Northern Ireland citizens would gain all the privileges of being European citizens. This might sound straightforward, but it really isn’t, especially if the UK diverges significantly from the EU in law, policy and practice. The declaration of support at least gives political and legal room for manoeuvre to budding united Irelanders that theirs is the side of Europe.

It would be a moral inconsistency to spend so much of Northern Ireland’s 100-year history arguing against majoritarianism only to switch course when it suits nationalism. It isn’t enough to cleave onto the ‘whataboutist’ argument that “they did it for 50 years so now we will” as this achieves nothing – the post GFA institutions are recognised as being for everyone so claiming that post unity, they would only serve unionist concerns is disingenuous. Schools in Belfast will still fail thousands of kids and the hospital in Derry will still have years long waiting lists. There is no secret sauce within the Dublin corridors of power to fix these issues and Martin recognises this by instead promoting a vision of unity which is about sharing resources, projects and capital (financial and human).

De-blunting the edges of any unification plan can come through local democracy, Stormont does offer this. It also offers the afore mentioned checks and balances which, although sometimes infuriating, keep our democracy within the bounds of civility. If you want a united Ireland simply because of a wish to abolish Stormont, then I won’t be able to convince you. I only pose you with one challenge, if you want a united Ireland for institutions you wish to break or suspended then how different are you from Cummings and the Brexiteers penny pitching English regions and rushing through demagogic legislation?

If nationalism embrace such a plan, then it placates any scenario immediately after the border poll where unionism digs its heels in at local councils and at Dail Eireen. The ensuing melodrama could be entirely avoided if Stormont still exists with powers devolved to it by Dublin instead of London. It would put unionist and nationalist political players in a place of defending local institutions instead of just smashing them down. Mick often quotes Tim Snyder on a point which is as apt on this subject matter as any other:

Defend institutions. This is a time when people like you and me and my friends say the institutions are going to save us. This is wrong: we have to save the institutions. This is the moment of ask not what the institutions can do for me it’s ask what you can do for the institutions. Fill them out, support them, don’t expect them to be robots because they’re not.

Stormont” by D-Stanley is licensed under CC BY

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