(This should have appeared early on Friday morning – until the gremlins got in the way.)
Last week, before the release of the BBC NI Spotlight poll, I talked to a local MLA about the concept of a new Ireland. Over the last few months there has been an increasing level of chatter analysing the mechanics of calling a border poll and interpreting census results.
Curiosity got the better of me and I decided to delve under the instinctive longing and loathing that is so often associated with the notion of a united Ireland to explore what the new state might look like if the conditions could ever be met to have a poll.
Much – though not all – of the commentary comes back to promoting a nationalist ideal of an El Dorado paradise or declaring the unionist nightmare of forcibly cutting ties to the British monarch.
Intellectually it’s a lot more interesting to get beyond the emotion and wonder … What if? What might be the shape of this potential state? How might the population in the north east corner relate to those in the south west? What governance arrangements might be put in place, or indeed left in place? What parts of Northern Ireland’s public sector and civil society would survive, or even thrive? How would the six counties integrate with the twenty six?
And while a poll may be a distant prospect, grasping the Presbyterian principle of ‘not refusing light from any quarter’ I wondered whether a Northern Ireland that is still settled in the Union had anything to learn from new Ireland thinking.
I’d heard Conall McDevitt, SDLP MLA for South Belfast, talking about the importance of region at an election event a couple of years ago, so I met up with him last week to pick his brains. We talked about identity, economy and his opinion of Sinn Féin’s “flag-waving” activity around the border poll. But first I asked about his vision of a united Ireland.
I think one of the great issues with the debate around the a border poll and in fact one of the great issues within both Irish unionism and Irish nationalism is that we have an awful habit of wanting to either remain in the union or to be in a united Ireland. But if we’re honest with ourselves we haven’t done a huge amount of work in trying to work through what that would look like (if you’re thinking about a united Ireland) or to consider the practical issues around it. How would you pay for it? What system of government might be best? Would it be a unitary state? Or would you have a federal Ireland?
Alan Meban. Tweets as @alaninbelfast. Blogs about cinema and theatre over at Alan in Belfast. A freelancer who writes about and reports from civic, academic and political events, reviews cultural performances, chairs discussions, and live-tweets, streams and records lectures and conferences. He delivers social media training, coaching and consultancy, produces podcasts, is a member of Ofcom’s Advisory Committee for Northern Ireland, FactCheckNI board member, and is a member of the Corrymeela Community.