Irish Political leaders building cautious consensus on a United Ireland

It was quite refreshing to see a reasonable debate on a United Ireland on Claire Byrne Live on Monday. There were pivotal moments from the get-go with Mary Lou McDonald and Leo Varadkar seeming to build a cautious consensus together in regard to the Northern Ireland question and how to go about it. It certainly felt from the outside looking in, a true start to the conversation of seeking Irish unity in the South in the modern era.

For many people watching, especially in the South, it was a good experience to lay witness to the Unionist perspective of things. Judging by the reactions of some on social media, it was quite the eye-opening experience to see the likes of Gregory Campbell from the DUP in full-flow and well as Loyalist activist Jamie Bryson.

At one point Bryson saying “all of the economic benefits in the world wouldn’t change my unionism and wouldn’t want me to be part of a United Ireland” should demonstrate to people in Ireland the large task at hand of possibly having to accommodate people which such opinions into a future United Ireland. These are not people who will exactly be persuaded by the idea of a United Ireland by the Republic simply fixing it’s health service to bring it in line with the NHS among other things.

But it also showed the alarming position unionism finds itself in. When your response to the idea that a United Ireland could benefit everybody on the island is to throw your head in the sand, say no and not even try and suggest the benefits of Northern Ireland remaining part of the UK, it hardly sends a positive signals to viewers at home that unionism has this grand vision for a brighter future for Northern Ireland.

On the other hand you had people like Andrew Trimble, former Ireland Ulster Rugby player on the show. Trimble offered the most balanced view of the night and its voices like him we need to hear more from. Trimble highlighted the massive issue around the segregated school system in Northern Ireland and how young Catholics and Protestants weren’t meeting one another until college. The de-segregation of Northern Irish schools is an essential step that must be taken long before a border poll happens.

There too is a massive education exercise required in Ireland to bring people up to speed with the affairs of modern-day Northern Ireland. Education in the South in regard to events such as the Troubles and Good Friday Agreement is lacking. Speaking personally, I went through the whole secondary school cycle without being taught about the Troubles. Made worse by the fact I live in Louth, beside the border, meaning I was not taught about the history 10 minutes down the road.

Not only should history be a compulsory subject in schools, but Northern Ireland’s history also should be at the heart of it together with normal Irish history. An end should be brought to Catholic-patronage of our education system in the Republic. Our national broadcaster RTE should also begin reporting more heavily on Northern Ireland news. These are not factors that should be considered when a United Ireland comes about, these are actions that should be taken now.

Irish political leaders seemed united in believing the reunification of the country is more presentable than ever before. It is far too early to set a date for a border poll, but it is never too early to start building trust. It will involve having conversations between North and South to understand each other before setting a true vision for a shared united Ireland. That involves trying to sell the idea of a United Ireland to those in the middle ground and to moderate unionists.

One such method of not building that trust is with Joe Brolly, who came on the show and decided bashing the DUP was the best course of action. When will some nationalists and republicans learn you cannot guilt people into a United Ireland? Thankfully, Claire Byrne rightfully cut off Brolly in what was a rare blip in an otherwise engaging debate.

It is at least the start of a conversation. For the foreseeable future efforts and resources should be poured into making the Good Friday Agreement work. Time should be set aside to reach out to unionists and to the middle ground in Northern Ireland to get their views on how they would see re-unification happen and what steps could be taken to build a truly shared island first. Finally, begin the conversation in the Republic of Ireland about what the Irish people are willing to change such as symbols and titles within the political sphere, in order to accommodate those who are British becoming part of a United Ireland. It’s time to dream big, start small but most all, start.

Watch the full debate here:

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