Mary McAleese and Peter Robinson should lead a commission on reunification proposals…

Mary McAleese was on this week’s Sunday with Miriam show on RTE Radio 1. It was a reminder of what a class act she is, very sharp and well informed. Mary McAleese would have made a great Taoiseach or First Minister.

If got me thinking about how we should make use of the considerable talents of our leaders who are no longer in office, but still have a lot to contribute to society.

With the passing of Seamus Mallon and John Hume, Mary McAleese takes over the mantel of the leadership of nationalism. Whether or not she actually wants this position, I don’t know, but here we are.

On the Unionist side, Peter Robinson has always been a pragmatic, strategic thinker. Several times he has warned Unionists that change is coming and they need to be ready.

The advantage of getting public figures who are no longer in active political life is that they can take hard decisions without worrying about getting hammered by the electorate.

We are looking at a border poll within the next ten years, and reunification could happen within 20 years. I believe events will move a lot faster than any of us could ever envisage. Just look at Brexit, who could have predicted that five years ago? When Scotland goes independent, we are looking at the end of the UK. I also think we need to consider the strong possibility that English taxpayers will get fed up subsidising us and tell us to get lost.

I know Unionists will point out that reunification is not certain. But the point is we need to plan. Remember everyone was convinced Brexit would never happen.

These are interesting times, and without calm leadership, things have the potential to spin out of control.

Therefore we need to have proper discussions, plans and proposals. My proposal is that once they are vaccinated, we need to stick some political operatives in a room to hammer out the details. They need to create a framework for the border poll and potential reunification structures. Issues such as:

  • When a border poll is to be called?
  • What is the question on the poll?
  • What happens if the result is yes?
  • What happens if it is no?
  • Would there be a period of joint rule? Would this be permanent or a transition?
  • Are there third options like Northern Ireland becomes some EU protectorate region?
  • How exactly would reunification work? Would Stormont still rule Northern Ireland? Would Northerners get seats in the Dail and Senate?
  • How will we work citizenship, pensions, savings etc.

I hesitate to compare it to the Eames/Bradley Report given how politically toxic that was, but most observers agree that report was generally valid.

There are other bodies looking at these issues. There is the working group on unification referendums on the island of Ireland established by University College London’s (UCL) constitution unit. There are also pro-unification groups like Ireland’s Future. It is envisioned the commission could interact with these other groups.

It should be made clear that I have not consulted any of the people mentioned in this post. A lot of them might be perfectly content to enjoy their retirement in peace. The Unionists mentioned might not be too keen to get involved in anything that is ‘selling out the Union’.

But all these individuals have led a life of service. To be involved in the most important political discussions since the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921 would be hard to resist.

Edit: in the original version of this post I listed some other names that could be involved in the commission. With reflection I think it’s not a good idea to suggest people without their consent.  Also it might distract from the core argument so I have deleted that section. 

Photo by jplenio is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA