Here is an acute reading of the actual situation in Northern Ireland, which I presume was prompted by George Osborne’s blustering forecast at the ejection in the FT by Robert Shrimsley…
While ruling out an early push for reunification, the Irish Republic is playing a long game. The taoiseach, Micheál Martin, has created a Shared Island initiative, with €500m for cross-border projects. Dublin also took on the cost of keeping Northern Irish students in the EU’s Erasmus university exchange scheme, another tie to the youth of the North.
The strategy is plain: polls show higher support for unification among younger voters. Meanwhile, gentrification is loosening the unionists’ grip on old strongholds. One observer highlights the coffee shops springing up in the now-marginal seat of east Belfast.
And yet, there are reasons to resist this easy narrative and unionist fatalism. The arc of history may bend towards reunification but it can be very long. Polling does not suggest a majority in the province for a united Ireland. It also shows deeper ties, such as attachment to the UK’s NHS.
Now, particular context of the pretty obvious current manoeuvring of the Agricultural Minister Ed Poots against his party leader, it’s interesting that Shrimsley buys into the (generally popular) idea that the DUP is Irish unification’s secret weapon. But in contrast many who hold that view he has well worked reasoning for taking that view.
He references the sort of internal struggles that Poots’ increasingly recalcitrant line is a likely signal for, making it difficult for the DUP to fight a disciplined long term battle in favour of the Union. He argues that…
Staving off reunification means not forcing a choice. It means easing tensions, not provoking them. It lies in retaining younger moderate Protestants and peeling the nonaligned from the nationalist cause.
It means winning back people in those east Belfast coffee shops, who look at Britain and Ireland and see modern liberal economies and are repelled by the sectarianism and conservatism of older unionists.
The irony there is that, for once perhaps, the DUP would have to put saving the Union above its own ‘narrow and strategic interests’. Almost everyone else in the political arena is betting against them being able to do that.
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