For all the intensity of the debate in some quarters, a united Ireland remains a concept with few ideas to drive it. The Taoiseach’s Shared Island project aims to bring north and south closer but without political preconditions.
Some point to increased north south trade since the protocol, but without some amelioration of the restrictions on the east west trade it’s not clear whether the protocol itself is sustainable in the medium to long term.
Besides, even if matters do settle the protocol confers dual access privileges that would be lost should unification occur therefore upping the already considerable cost of bringing the two parts of the island together.
Then there’s hollowed out nature of the debate itself. As Newton Emerson notes in today’s Irish Times, it’s marked by a lot of talk but very few practical ideas. Indeed he argues that…
…nationalist parties are using the debate to trap each other. Everyone is circling around, trying to lure someone else into suggesting a compromise that would be deeply unpopular with the southern public.
To be fair, they are all trapped by the electoral logic of unification: the voters most interested in it are most strongly attached to the Republic’s symbols, while the voters least interested in it are also attached to those symbols and see no urgency to change them.
There are no votes for anyone who can be branded the “ditch the tricolour” candidate.
Fianna Fáil TD Jim Callaghan has proposed a serious approach to debate in unionism’s absence. He advocates reserving a number of Cabinet seats for unionists in a united Ireland, guaranteeing them meaningful power to discuss totems such as flags and anthems in office.
This neutralises the unsubtle republican threat that unionists should talk before it is too late. Callaghan is an outlier, however. Most proclaimed advocates of unity are “putting everything on the table” then ducking under it. [Emphasis added]
Chief among the ‘duckers’ are our old friends in Sinn Féin…
Sinn Féin’s repeated calls on Government to produce a Green Paper or set up a constitutional convention or Citizens’ Assembly are further ways to keep the conversation going without Sinn Féin itself having to say anything challenging.
This trick will no long work if or when McDonald’s party enters government in the Republic, certainly if it is the largest partner in a coalition. There is no good reason the trick should work now: as the largest Opposition party, Sinn Féin could easily be pressed to produce its own concrete plans.
Instead, it is left to cook up claims of a painless transition, where the UK keeps paying the bills. If other parties fear debunking even that nonsense, there is zero chance of discussing new lyrics for Amhrán na bhFiann.
The trap for Sinn Féin in office is that it will discuss unity more and more as it fails to deliver its promises on everything else – a reasonable prediction, as the housing market is unfixable within one electoral cycle.
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