Distant dreaming






In considering the article by academics Christopher Kissane and David Kenny (one from London School of Economics and the other from Trinity College Dublin) in today’s Irish Times (18 August), it is worth keeping in mind the title “Imagination is needed to achieve a united Ireland”.

Based on the article it would take a great deal of imagination, perhaps verging on the fantastic, if this Opinion piece was to be considered a start point.

The two gentlemen consider the feasibility of arranging Irish unity through the existing (Southern) Irish constitution: taking this as ‘the most straightforward’ model based on how constitutionally (West) Germany absorbed the former East Germany in 1990.

Of course as the Constitution of the Republic of Ireland can make no claim to Northern Ireland (GFA and all that) it would be necessary to pre-amend the current constitution and hope it is acceptable to a majority in Northern Ireland (and most especially Unionists who they are basically expecting to accept adsorption – seriously; there’s no chance of Unionists helping the Republic design their own destruction).

The sort of detail that is suggested as requiring consideration for amendments to the existing Constitution would concern many people, and not just unionists in Northern Ireland. The Republic may well find the opening accepted shibboleths of State to criticism and debate might also open old wounds that would bleed the State polity.

Besides this fundamental there are two aspects of the approach taken by these two academics that raises an eyebrow.

First, the article gives no consideration of the economic feasibility of a united Ireland.

How would the Republic of Ireland, and more particularly its citizens and tax payers finance a fiscal transfer into Northern Ireland which is currently about £10 billion annually? The suggestion elsewhere that Whitehall would continue to pay this for 30 years is more than fanciful.

Would citizens of the Republic be prepared to pay a unification tax (5.5% in Germany, still)?  It would be interesting to hear how it would be expected that services such as the NHS and free schooling would be sustained in Northern Ireland ‘post unification’; currently neither service is without considerable cost to citizens in the Republic – would the proposal be to extend services in the Republic or cut them in Northern Ireland?

Second, the language of this article is of imagination and dreams. There is a fuzzy understanding of the reality of recent history in Northern Ireland. In the concluding paragraphs there is a throwaway statement, “…but with Northern Ireland increasingly failed by British and DUP government…”

Yet between June 2007 and January 2017 Northern Ireland had a devolved government in which de facto power was divided between the two biggest parties, i.e. DUP and SF. So, if ‘government’ is failing then surely some of the responsibility must be shared by Sinn Fein?

As Finnoula O’Connor wrote in the Irish News (17 August) on the Sinn Fein contribution to the Northern Ireland Executive:

‘…the Shinners wasted their chances through lack of imagination, ignorance and plain incompetence.’

Indeed, it has been the lack of imagination from nationalism, SDLP and Sinn Fein alike, that has largely left Stormont teetering. Nor is there much imagination on display to the South: the debate on the future of relations of the Irish Republic with the UK post-Brexit hang in a black cloud – a point made by Noel Whelan on the same page above the Kissane/Kenny Opinion piece.

If the Irish State fails to bring imagination to the immediate issues around Brexit – and it has recently demonstrated little of that, preferring to sit on its toy box and refuse to share – then how on earth would it be expected to bring ideas and purpose to the political unification of the island, not to mention the economic and social challenges in that.

It is difficult to understand why If, as Kissane/Kenny suggest, unity remains but a “distant dream”, they would be so willing to excite or agitate with such little attention to real issues beyond musings and maybes.

Then again, musings and maybes are the essence of romantic, and impossible, dreams.


Dr Esmond Birnie