On Friday I was invited to talk about the interim report on the Working Group on Unification Referendums on the Island of Ireland which we covered last week, on The Irish Times Inside Politics podcast with Etain Tannan, Pat Leahy and host Hugh Linihan…
I welcomed the report and would recommend you get a hold of the short but comprehensive Executive Summary. It’s important to re-emphasise that the report is decidedly non political in the sense that it takes no view of outcome, just notes the complications in getting there.
The prompt was clearly routed in the muddle and disruption that Brexit has become because of the lack of preparation. It gets pointed out too that the unique complications is that the Belfast Agreement provides for not one but two referendums north and south holds great potential for muddle.
Personally, I’ve always assumed that if NI said yes, then the south would hardly refuse. But as the report makes clear, a proper period of deliberation would have to outline the proposes in great detail not least what so of “dowry” as I put it in the division of UK assets and liabilities.
A hasty rush which foregoes the sort of deliberation techniques seen in the preceding period before the relatively straightforward issues of abortion and marriage equality in one state (ie, the south) could see even popular sentiment in favour of unification drain under the burden of reality.
Terms would have to be hammered out if not in complete detail, then with all potential icebergs mapped and owned before a single (metaphorical) shot was fired. Of course, politics is a slippery creature. Knowing that it wouldn’t be the wisest route forward doesn’t mean it won’t happen.
But whilst sentiment may carry the day in the south, the bigger problem in Northern Ireland isn’t just the large (minority) group that still call themselves unionist, but a very third group in the middle (up to 30%) which considers itself ‘neither’ and according to surveys is put off by loose chatter around constitutional questions.
As Katy Hayward points out, “inclusivity, consensus, British-Irish cooperation… remain essential”. So it is timely that the shared island dialogues continued last week with a session with young people. Deliberation is the key to re-engineering the future for the better with actions that benefit everyone.
Then maybe, if and when the referendum on unification comes, it might be a question of building on the strengths rather than the weakness of the past (such as the Belfast Agreement, the AIA and UK Legislation from 75/6 which changed the employment landscape for the two generations, forever.
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