“A United Ireland is inevitable”
For anyone who comes from a Nationalist family you will have heard an older relative say this statement over and over again. Like an article of faith, you believe that with just a few simple demographic changes and a patient waiting game that the promised land will be ours. After all, Northern Ireland was only going to be a temporary stop gap solution, right? The British government would be shot of us tomorrow, because we cost too much money. Simple logic would dictate that like Germany, our day will come and the divided will be united.
But, for Nationalism we need to do more work than that. The problem with inevitability argument is that it is really an old tale, just repeated over and over again. My great grandparents would have believed this, who then told my grandparents who also believed it and then told my parents and so on. But the problem is Northern Ireland hasn’t gone away and is still here, albeit in a different shape. I call it a comfort blanket argument because, we have had a century now of this argument being disproved and expecting a different result in 2021 is just repeating the same mistakes.
What’s worse, is this argument creates laziness amongst Nationalist ranks. All we need is a Helmut Kohl type who can through a force of personality drive forward reunification. Ignoring the fact that the collapse of the East German state was a long time coming and even before unification happened the pro unity parties had to win an election first. Unification was more than just the demolition of a wall. It took years of patient and economically costly work to pull off in Germany. The latter parts are so often ignored within Irish Nationalist discourse.
I am not arguing this out of defeatism, but out of frustration. There is so much about modern Ireland that can be sold so effectively. I have never believed that a referendum is unwinnable for a pro unity campaign and in fact, part of unionisms hesitancy to face such a poll is due to their lack of confidence to sustain their arguments throughout a long campaign. But we have got to ditch the narrative that believes this is inevitable. One thing that Germany does prove, is that if you want unification, you have got to be prepared to put your money where your mouth is and play the long game. Nothing about German unification was inevitable, the pro unity forces on both sides of the divide worked to seize their opportunity to make it happen and build effectively a new country.
That’s our challenge too. Building a new country. The case to me is compelling and can win any voter over. But we are never going to get there, by thinking it’s going to fall into our laps. There are two main nationalities on this island, Irish and British. The first to recognise and have a clear pathway towards reconciliation, wins.
If you think I am wrong, think back to hearing others saying this. They thought Northern Ireland wouldn’t see 1966, it did. Then it would be 1971, then that came and went. Then it became the year 2000, which then became 2016, which then became 2021. Let’s stop looking at census results and calendars. Get people engaged and more importantly, get them voting.
David McCann holds a PhD in North-South relations from University of Ulster. You can follow him on twitter @dmcbfs