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Planning for a United Ireland

by Frank Schnittger Mon Aug 1st, 2022 at 01:45:13 PM EST

I had the pleasure of attending the John Hewitt summer school in Armagh last week. It is named after a deceased radical protestant poet in N. Ireland and hosts talks on the arts, culture and politics. One contributor was Andy Pollak, and you can read an account of his talk entitled "The South is not ready for unification" here, where it is getting a fairly ferocious response.

I felt that Andy was at least half right in his analysis, and deserving of a more balanced critique. I thus felt inspired to write the response below:

At one point, after his talk, Andy was asked: "So has Partition been a success?" to which he replied with a horrified "No, it has been a disaster".  

But that does not mean partition has not had major effects.  Blogging at the European Tribune and on Slugger O'Toole has taught me that we might as well be on two different planets. There is almost no appreciation of N. Ireland politics in Ireland, never mind Europe, and vice versa, much N. Ireland political discourse takes place in almost complete ignorance of European politics.  

So much so, that I felt compelled to write The external influences on Northern Ireland's political future for Slugger O'Toole in an attempt to redress the imbalance.

And so it is that many unionists, as well as Brexiteers, are convinced that the EU will fold when confronted with the blatant illegality of the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill, a Bill that both candidates for the leadership of the Tory Party and Prime Minister have pledged to progress into law.

There is often zero appreciation that the EU, without its own army, only has the rule of law and the mutual trust and cooperation of its leaders to safeguard its existence. Indeed, the EU is little more than an amalgam of Treaties and rules combined with the political, social and economic interdependence that decades of cooperation and compliance have enabled.

If the EU were to allow the UK to blatantly disregard its Treaty obligations, what is to prevent every other third party, not to mention the Member States themselves, disregarding every obligation not to their liking. The EU would simply disintegrate into chaos.

That has, of course, been the solemn prediction, not to say the intent of Brexiteers all along. They are convinced that they have merely got out ahead of the EU's inevitable disintegration and want to engage in bilateral relations with individual EU member states, and particularly the smaller ones like Ireland, whom they perceive as having gotten too big for their boots within the formal equality granted to member states as part of the Treaties.

Ireland, it is confidently predicted, will just have to suck it up and erect customs controls on its border with Northern Ireland if it wants to remain in the Single Market and Customs Union, and failing that, it can always leave the EU and re-join the United Kingdom if it wants to avoid a border within the island.

Many unionists are delighted with the mayhem their clever ruse of supporting the hardest possible form of Brexit has created in British-Irish relations. The further they can estrange Britain from Ireland (and the EU) the harder the border, and the more secure their northern redoubt from southern interference.

Or at least that was the theory.

In practice, their intransigence has forced moderate unionists into the arms of the Alliance Party, which, while officially neutral on the constitutional question (united Ireland vs. United Kingdom), in practice didn't support Brexit and supports the current status quo and would like improved relations with Ireland and the EU.

Andy Pollak argues that southern Ireland isn't ready for a united Ireland, hasn't given it serious thought, and has no idea of the mayhem that would ensue if 800,000 angry, embittered, and threatened unionists were forced into a united Ireland following a 50%+1 vote in favour of unity under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.

He is half right. Ireland had a coherent policy towards N. Ireland under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement (GFA) and joint EU membership. The Good Friday Agreement provided for power sharing within N. Ireland (strand 1), Improved North-South cooperation (Strand 2), and improved East west relations between Briton and Ireland, joint guarantors of the agreement (Strand 3).

In practice, power sharing has operated only intermittently, and is currently suspended due to the DUP refusal to implement the results of the May elections over their difficulties with the Protocol - a matter the Assembly itself was due to vote on and which power the UK Northern Ireland Protocol Bill proposes to remove from the Assembly.

The DUP has also refused to operate Strand Two of the GFA, despite Belfast High Court rulings that they are legally obliged to do so.

Finally, the British Government has effectively trashed strand 3, abandoning all pretence of dealing even-handedly with both unionist and nationalist traditions in N. Ireland, and reducing relations with the Irish government to a low not seen since the events like Bloody Sunday, which played a key role in triggering the Troubles.

The sight of Jeffrey Donaldson, who has opposed the GFA all his political life now posing as its greatest defender, while trashing all three strands stretches even N. Ireland's enhanced powers of irony to breaking point.

However, it is the manner in which Brexit was carried out, and now the proposal to disapply large parts of the legally binding protocol which may do even more damage to UK/EU and Ireland relations in the long term, as well as completely destabilizing the fragile political settlement brought about by the GFA within N. Ireland itself.

The GFA was agreed when both sovereign powers were members of the EU, and thus, at least notionally, committed to an "Ever closer union" as enunciated in the opening lines of the 1958 founding Treaty of Rome. (The Brexiteer conceit that they joined a "Common Market" which was later subverted into an emergent political union rather ignores the fact that "an Ever Closer Union" was the prime motive for forming the Common Market in the first place).

It was never conceived that either party could leave the EU because no legal mechanism for doing so existed then. Article 50 was only introduced in the subsequent 2008 Treaty of Lisbon.

Thus, joint membership of the EU, an ever closer Union, open borders, and adherence to all three strands of the GFA was the basis of the constitutional settlement Ireland had agreed with Britain to resolve the Troubles in N. Ireland. Indeed, 94% of the electorate in the south had endorsed this settlement which included the deletion of Ireland's territorial claim to N. Ireland in the Irish constitution  

It is thus hardly fair to accuse the south of not having a strategy for dealing with the North just because Britain and the DUP have trashed all elements of the agreed settlement.

But Andy Pollak is also half right. The manner in which Brexit was carried out, and now the legislation against the agreed Protocol creates an entirely new situation not envisaged by the GFA. It has re-polarised politics in N. Ireland and driven many unaligned and moderate voters until recently reasonably happy to live with the current status quo into a hard-line nationalist position of demanding a border poll now.

The most recent University of Liverpool opinion poll has just delivered the following results:

Sinn Féin 30.9% (up1.9% since the May Assembly elections)
DUP 20.1% (down 1.2%)
Alliance 15.3% (up 1.8%)
SDLP 10.0% (up 0.8%)
UUP 9.6% (down 1.6%)
TUV 4.7% (down 2.9%)
Greens 2.9% (up 1.0%)
Others 6.5%

By the normally static pattern of N. Ireland polls, this is a seismic result if replicated in the next Assembly elections, due by January next year unless the DUP agree to form an Executive. The combined DUP/UUP/TUV vote is down by 5.7%, and the combined nationalist vote is up 3% if one includes the all-Ireland based Green party. Many unionist voters have obviously shifted to the centrist Alliance Party, and some Alliance party voters have shifted further across to the nationalist side of the spectrum.

The vote of parties campaigning to scrap the protocol has declined to 25% and those happy to reach a negotiated settlement with the EU on its precise implementation has risen to almost 60%. This is also reflected in the current composition of the Assembly which is why the UK government is so keen to over-ride the Assembly's current power to vote on its continuance.

None of this is to say that a border poll, carried out in the near future, and in the absence of a clear definition of what a transition to a United Ireland would look like would inevitably be carried. What it does mean, however, is that in the context of a possible second Scottish independence referendum and the emergence of Sinn Fein as the leading party in Ireland, north and south, calls for a border poll are going to become ever more strident.

In this context, my submission to the Constitution Unit of the University of London report on approaches to a possible border referendum is relevant. We do not want a repeat of the Brexit referendum where one broad and largely undefined principle was put to the people who ended up getting something very different to what had been discussed and advocated in the pre-referendum debates.

Ireland does not do generalised "in Principle" referenda. We vote on very specific wordings to be inserted in our constitution whose meaning and effect has been teased out by an independent judge led referendum commission and which is often accompanied by draft legislation detailing how it will be put into effect. A referendum on a united Ireland in Ireland would have to spell out exactly how it will come about and what impact it would have on the lives of ordinary people.

A border poll in the North should therefore only take place after the British and Irish governments have negotiated a "Transfer of Sovereignty" Treaty which sets out precisely how sovereignty will be transferred, what transitional arrangements will apply, how they will be funded, and how minority rights will be safeguarded in the new state. This might include the retention of a devolved administration in Stormont at least for a lengthy transition period, with only those "reserved and except powers" currently exercised in Westminster transferred to Dublin.

Policing in Northern Ireland would continue to be the responsibility of a PSNI only slowly merged with the Garda Síochána with a similarly slow and planned transition of security responsibilities from the British to the Irish army.

There is also no reason to suppose that any administrative integration will necessarily consist of a takeover of the North by the southern civil service. Some aspects of NI public administration, for example the NHS and some models of integrated education could become the template for an all-Ireland administrative transformation.

For a United Ireland to make social, economic, political and administrative sense, it would have to be a transformative event taking in the best aspects of both northern and southern systems, and achieving economies of scale and reduced duplication to offset what would otherwise be the crippling cost of sustaining a Barnett style financial subvention.

Sinn Fein assertions that Barnett style subsidies would no longer be required in a united Ireland are reminiscent of Brexiteer "magical thinking," as is their assumption that 800,000 unionists would meekly accept the result of a Border poll in favour of unification. Like Brexiteers, nationalists have been largely "negotiating with themselves" when it comes to deciding what a post border poll united Ireland would look like.  

Not only was the EU disinclined to simply rubber stamp whatever contradictory proposals the Brexiteers ultimately conjured up, it is most unlikely that Unionists (or their proxies in Britain) will simply rubber stamp whatever united Ireland implementation policies even a generously inclined Irish government might propose.

At least nationalists have the excuse that neither unionists nor the British government will engage with any detailed discussions on a united Ireland and they thus have little alternative but to "negotiate with themselves". Brexiteers had no such excuse: The EU was always willing to engage, but has been steadfastly ignored for much of the post Brexit and now post Protocol period.

So why might this situation change in the future? Unionists have little incentive to engage in discussions on a United Ireland prior to a border poll. Their prospects of success in such a poll probably largely depend on creating a "bogey man" of catholic nationalist domination, remote Dublin rule, and great uncertainty as to what future united Ireland governments might enact. For a unionist to engage in discussions on the shape of a future united Ireland now can only reduce this sense of a hugely uncertain "bogeyman" future and this would make a pro united Ireland result in the poll more likely.

Also, since unionism is ultimately about maintaining strong links with Britain, asking unionists to engage in a discussion on a united Ireland is akin to inviting them to commit political suicide. All this might change if a border poll in Northern Ireland is ultimately passed, with unionist then pivoting to making demands that would make a united Ireland as unattractive as possible to southerners in advance of a southern referendum.

However, as I pointed out in a long letter published by the hard-line unionist Belfast Newsletter, If unionists want to influence whatever shape a united Ireland might take, they need to get an agreement on it prior to any vote. After a northern border poll is passed, the political system will pivot towards making a southern referendum passable, and that does not include making huge concessions to unionists which would be seen by many southern voters as diluting their sense of independence from Britain.

Here I am in full agreement with Andy Pollak: Southern voters may be hugely in favour of a united Ireland in principle, "in the fullness of time," and provided it does not result in a wholesale "Anglification" of the south. But throw in huge concessions to the unionist sense of British identity or a huge increase in taxation to replace the Barnett subvention, and support for unification in a referendum could rapidly wither away.

We could then be faced with a doomsday scenario of a NI having voted to leave the UK but rejected by Ireland, surely an outcome all sides should wish to prevent. Thus, any border poll in the North must be preceded by a detailed "Transfer of Sovereignty Treaty" between Britain and Ireland setting out the precise terms of such a transfer.  

One might reasonably ask, why would Britain want to negotiate a treaty severing its most western component? Besides the principled declaration that the UK has no selfish or strategic motive in retaining NI, there might also be a pragmatic argument for supposing that Britain might want to do so. Sunak is not the only British politician to have questioned the enormous cost of the Barnett subventions to the British (and in practice, the English) exchequer.

After all the NI subvention has risen from a mere Billion or so some years ago to £10-15 billion now and shows no sign of coming down. What if it were to continue to increase? Britain left the EU in part because of the cost of Membership which was supposed to be retargeted to the NHS. But Britain also gained significant benefits from its net £10 Billion EU subvention. What benefit is it achieving from NI's continued membership of the UK and a subvention cost which now exceeds the hated net contribution to the EU?

Suppose in the future, an embattled British government, facing an economic and budgetary crisis, was forced to make drastic cuts in public expenditure. Would it not make more sense to make such cuts in NI where neither Labour nor the Tories have any seats to defend? For context, the total cost of the NHS in NI is c. £7 Billion. Even a 50% cut in the subvention would entirely eliminate it. Would unionists still be so opposed to a united Ireland if Britain and Ireland agreed to share the cost for a lengthy transitionary period of joint authority prior to full re-unification?

This may seem a far-fetched scenario, and unionists like to point out there has been no sign of Britain seeking to cut the subvention up until now. But with Brexit already having reduced the size of the UK economy by 4%, and a winter of discontent over strikes and inflation threatening to return the UK to its pre-EU "sick man of Europe" status, it may become a political reality in Westminster sooner than we expect, and sooner than we are ready for. The least the Irish government must do is prepare contingency plans for such a scenario.

The GFA stipulates that a Border Poll can only be called if the N. Ireland Secretary of State deems there is a realistic possibility of it being carried. Many observers have called for greater clarity as to which criteria s/he will apply in reaching such a determination. I have always been of the view that the vagueness of the GFA hides its true intent: A border poll will only be called if the British government has come to the view that it is in its interest to divest itself of NI.

If that is the case voters in a border poll will not have a choice of a safe and secure status quo, underwritten by the Barnett formula, and some magical thinking by Sinn Fein as to how a united Ireland will be funded. It may come to a choice between radical austerity now - including the virtual elimination of the NHS - and an agreement by the British and Irish governments to co-fund it for a lengthy transitional period as part of a transfer of sovereignty treaty.

For Britain this would mean a radical reduction, and ultimate elimination of the Barnett formula subvention. For NI Ireland it would mean some prospect of current living standards and quality of life being maintained at least for the foreseeable future. For Ireland it could mean the dream of a united Ireland being fulfilled allied to the prospect that the costs of transition will be co-funded for many years, and that there will be a considerable length of time for the economic model which has been so successful in the south gradually being extended to the North, making south north financial transfers increasingly unnecessary.  

It is only when the economic interests of all the key actors in NI are fully addressed in this way that there is any real prospect of a united Ireland actually happening. It is not, ultimately, about symbols or parades, but of sustaining a quality of life for all. Even then, it may be no easy transition. Some loyalists may resort to violence to frustrate the transition, and here only the full resources of both the British and Irish governments will be able to sustain public safety.

It is a sobering thought, but east west tensions remain in Germany 30 odd years after re-unification and it sometimes seems the civil war is alive and well in the USA over 150 years after its formal cessation. However, the EU has a long and successful track record of incorporating formerly warring great powers - Germany, France, Austro-Hungary and Italy; Former fascist dictatorships like Spain, Portugal and Greece; and former Communist satellite states in Eastern Europe. A little local quarrel in Ireland should not represent a challenge on quite the same scale.

It should be no surprise that much of the North's political discourse "takes place in almost complete ignorance of European politics" given that much of its political discourse takes place in almost complete ignorance of UK politics.  It's how unionists are so easily manipulated in every coalition they dive into.
by rifek on Tue Aug 2nd, 2022 at 07:28:46 PM EST
I think unionists do look to Westminster a lot for leadership but have been almost continually disappointed that their voices don't count for much when they don't have a parliamentary tipping point majority - which has only happened once in recent times.

Nationalists and the unaligned, on the other hand, have more or less given up on Westminster, and increasingly look to Dublin for leadership, and are also sometimes disappointed that Dublin doesn't take a more pro-active approach  and seems obsessed with wooing unionists who do not want to be wooed, at the expense of nationalists and others who do.

Brexit has been the tipping point for many, as Brexiteers and unionists ignored the wishes of the vast majority, and continue to do so over the Protocol.  It appears only unionists are supposed to have a veto on stuff they don't like; everyone else has to suck it up when their wishes are ignored.

One consequence is that many nationalists are no longer prepared to accept the post Brexit status quo and have abandoned all hope of reforming N. Ireland and gone all in for a border poll and a united Ireland now. They are thus aghast at Andy Pollak's suggestion that it could take another 50 years for a United Ireland to come about and see attempts to mitigate or appease threats of loyalist violence as just another way of preserving the current, unacceptable status quo.

They also don't think many loyalists can be appeased, and that there is little point in trying. Any attempts at violent resistance will just have to be confronted and criminalised if necessary. The idea of a totally peaceful transition is to them hopelessly idealistic pie in the sky.

I would argue that with good leadership - see for example, Nelson Mandela - there is no reason the transition cannot be almost completely peaceful, if not entirely consensual. But then there is hardly a society in the world without some dissidents and some violence on the margins, and I do not believe the differences between loyalists and nationalists are as deep as those in many other societies.

But neither can the the transfer of sovereignty, decision making and power be instantaneous. Some transitionary and transformative processes are required. Hence my blog post and much other thinking on the subject.

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Wed Aug 3rd, 2022 at 10:10:20 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Given there is no leadership to look to in Westminster....
by rifek on Fri Aug 5th, 2022 at 06:07:57 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The debate over the £10-15 Billion p.a. Barnett formula based subvention is clouded in controversy. Some Analysts, like Pennsylvania university Professor Brendan O'Leary. have argued that the true cost to Ireland could be more like €3 Billion p.a. The difference being due to NI's contribution to the UK's much higher defence expenditure, debt servicing costs and occupational pensions for UK military and civil service personnel which would not transfer to Ireland.

The NI civil service is also huge compared to the size of its economy - c.30% of the workforce - and you would expect some rationalisation and reductions as its functions were integrated into an all Ireland civil and public service.

The longer term argument is, of course, that there is no reason why a NI economy, integrated into the Irish economy and governed by more appropriate policies from Dublin and Brussels rather than London could not be as successful as the Irish economy and no longer require any subsidies to deliver a comparable standard of living.  How does Donegal manage with out such transfers, for example?

However the longer term could be a long time coming - see the former East Germany - especially if there is ongoing civil unrest. So in the meantime transitionary funding would be required if there wasn't going to be a significant impact on living standards and public services in the south - something opinion polls indicate would not be accepted as a reasonable price for re-unification and could result in a referendum vote against re-unification unless addressed.

Some funding might come from EU regional and cohesion funding, US investment, and the economies of scale an all Ireland administration might be able to generate. However if there is going to be a transitionary phase of Joint Authority with the UK allied to a transitionary continuation of NI political and administrative structures prior to full re-unification, it is not unreasonable to expect the UK to make a major contribution to the cost for the transitionary phase.

UK policies have massively under-developed the north compared to its former industrial glory and it will take time, appropriate policies, and leadership to restore it to something like its former pre-eminence in the economy of these islands. NI is currently excluded from EU services markets and future growth is likely to be much more dependent on those sectors. It is currently little more than a captive market for British manufacturers and service providers.

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Thu Aug 4th, 2022 at 12:05:56 PM EST
To my great surprise this post has also just been published on Slugger O'Toole, N. Ireland's leading political blog, where it will undoubtedly provoke a lively response.

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Fri Aug 5th, 2022 at 12:39:10 PM EST
My post there currently has 379 Comments and 3639  Readers with much of the commentary well informed, if you are interested.

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Sat Aug 6th, 2022 at 03:43:19 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Does it look like progress, compared to that kind of debates, say, five years ago?
by Bernard (bernard) on Sat Aug 6th, 2022 at 08:27:12 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Brexit has changed everything, as it was imposed on NI against the wishes of 56% of voters. The unionist vote has now declined to parity with Nationalists, and a large and more assertive non-aligned centre has grown to 20% of the electorate. Younger voters are overwhelmingly non-unionist, although not necessarily hard line nationalist.

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Sun Aug 7th, 2022 at 10:45:13 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Just as a general question, could the GFA governing arrangements be changed to exclude willfully non-cooperating parties (DUP, obviously) or is NI stuck with hoping a new election would make by-passing them possible?
by FoolsErrand on Sat Aug 6th, 2022 at 10:29:53 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The requirement that the leading unionist and nationalist parties have an effective veto on devolution was introduced in the 2006 St. Andrew's agreement which was an attempt to revive the institutions after the DUP had withdrawn support. Essentially it was deemed that without the support of the two extreme and major parties, there was a risk of violence and instability returning.

The risk now is that without any prospect of a return to devolution, centrist voters will lose patience and swing all the way over to demanding a border poll now. So there is a logic, from a conservative unionist point of view, of removing the veto and enabling the devolved institutions to function with the DUP in opposition.

Obviously this would have to be done with DUP support, and relations between the UK and Irish governments are now so bad any agreement is unlikely. Hardline unionists probably prefer the prospect of direct rule from London to a Sinn Fein First Minister taking office in Belfast. Indeed many feel the DUP is just using their dislike of the Protocol as an excuse to keep Sinn Fein out of office.

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Sun Aug 7th, 2022 at 10:37:04 AM EST
[ Parent ]
A well structured argument about how an actual unification could (and hopefully would) look.

A PN: Greenland leaving in the early 80ies was - despite Greenland not being a member state - often referenced as an example of how a member state could leave the EU. So even before Lisbon, leaving EU was a possibility. The GFA didn't take it into account, but not because it was impossible. Presumably the negotiatiors had more pressing matters to attend to then what to do if - in a distant future - the UK or the Irish republic would leave the EU.

by fjallstrom on Sat Aug 6th, 2022 at 10:28:00 PM EST
They were dealing with the pressing political realities of the time, not some (then unlikely) hypothetical situations in the future. There was always supposed to be a review of the GFA in two years, and indeed it was modified by the St. Andrews Agreement in 2006. But it is always going to be difficult to get the current two governments plus 5 parties in NI to agree on anything.

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Sun Aug 7th, 2022 at 10:41:53 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I have made the following comment on Slugger in response to a lot of debate there:


There has been a lot of debate below about the necessity (or otherwise) of achieving a majority for a UI far in excess of the minimal 50%+1 GFA requirement. Obviously the bigger the majority, the better, but is it necessary, and if so, how is it achievable? And if it is achievable, must it be achieved prior to, or after a border poll?

Obviously, if you wait long enough - Pollak suggested 50 years - demographic and other changes may do the job for you. But that requires the non-unionist majority to tolerate a system they don't want for a long time longer. My suggestion is they are unwilling to do so, as the drift in support for a border poll now seems to indicate.

Andy Pollak's paper focuses on a lot of constitutional concessions to unionists' sense of Britishness in an effort to achieve this. My response to this is:

  1. In the absence of unionist/UK government engagement, this is purely speculative, and even major concessions may buy you nothing. Indeed they may just fuel the demand for more concessions without any guarantee of shifting the dial of unionist support significantly.
  2. Most unionists vote out of a sense of identity which is essentially non-negotiable. It is an insult to them to suggest they can be bought off with constitutional tinkering or promises of economic advantage. They may even respect you all the less for it.
  3. Any concessions made which diminish nationalists' sense of Irishness or independence from Britain risks the UI proposals being rejected by nationalists north and south, and lose you more votes than you might gain.

So my proposals take unionist opposition to a UI before (and to a much lesser extent, after) a successful 50% +1 border poll more or less as a given, about which we can do little. We must do them the honour of respecting their position which no economic or political inducement can change in the short term.

The focus of my proposals is the 20% or so "persuadables" in the middle of the political spectrum for whom national identity is not the over-riding factor determining their vote. My contention is a majority of them could be won over by a combination of:

  1. A credible promise of a secure, stable, settled political future in a UI.
  2. Much better economic prospects in a UI.
  3. Protection of minority rights and identities in the new political dispensation.
  4. A planned, structured, well organised, agreed and legally binding transition process between Britain and Ireland which guarantees pensions, quality of life, healthcare, integrated education, social security and a programme of infrastructural development for a long transition period. There might even be provision for a second border poll ten years down the line where people will have the opportunity to change their minds if the above hasn't been delivered to their satisfaction.

Many, if not most unionists will still be unionists 10 years down the line. Let us celebrate that as long as they celebrate their identity within the law. Hopefully some will have accepted the new dispensation as having delivered them a fair deal in any second border poll 10 years hence, and so, together with further demographic change any 50%+1 initial majority will have changed to 60:40 or better by then.

But to expect an instant transfer of allegiance the moment a 50%+1 poll is passed is pie-in-the-sky. Some will do so out of a principled support for democracy much as some Remain voters now support Brexit. But we must give people credit for the integrity of their beliefs and the dignity of changing their perceptions in their own time, if at all.

Any takers?

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Sun Aug 7th, 2022 at 10:51:10 AM EST
I wonder as well how Scotland voting for independence would impact opinion as well.  And how does the increasingly English-nationalist turn in the UK affect folks in the more..."squishy" unionist cohort?

The DUP/TUV types will always be what they are -- and I worry that what we're seeing is the beginning of a possibly very nasty period in unionism as they see the writing on the wall -- but there's a very sizable group of unionists who don't seem to really identify with them.

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.

by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Sun Aug 7th, 2022 at 05:06:26 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Scotland voting for independence would be huge as it would spell the end of the UK. With unionists of Scottish background (Presbyterian/Methodist) roughly equal in number with unionists of English background (Anglican) , which part of the current UK should unionism seek to remain part of?

Equally the growth of English nationalism is a huge problem for unionism as the English see them as Irish rather than British and most have no commitment to keeping NI within the UK and no awareness of what goes on in NI.  

That is why unionists are so desperate to emphasize their "Britishness" despite the fact that the UK is explicitly the united Kingdom of Britain and N. Ireland (formerly Ireland).

They are also painfully aware that the UK government uses them when it suits and betrays them without a moments thought. It was the UK government, after all, which agreed the Protocol.

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Sun Aug 7th, 2022 at 08:38:07 PM EST
[ Parent ]
In response to one commenter on Slugger (who obviously hadn't read Andy Pollak's speech), I posted the following summary of his proposals and my response:


I wasn't writing a review of Pollaks speech, that has already been done by Allan LEONARD (Mr Ulster) on Slugger.  I was writing a response to it on the assumption that readers had read his speech or Leonards account of it. For those who only read the title of Pollaks speech, here is a summary:

Pollak envisages a united Ireland with a constitutional system somewhere along the spectrum between federalism and confederalism, with some continuing role for the British government, and guaranteeing unionists their British ties and identity through

  1.  a power-sharing regional government and parliament to continue in Belfast with only a few major powers such as foreign affairs, defence and some taxation now held by London being transferred to Dublin
  2.  Irish membership of the Commonwealth;
  3. the reactivation of the British Irish Council;
  4. an agreement with London that a number of Northern politicians will continue to sit as British legislators in the House of Lords;
  5. a reversal of the 1985 Anglo Irish Agreement safeguard to protect nationalists to apply to unionists instead giving the British government the equivalent right to intervene to protect their community;
  6.  an overhaul of the Irish Constitution to remove or tone down any remaining elements influenced by 1930s-style Catholicism and nationalism and to include elements recognising the British identity of Northern unionists (for example, their loyalty to the British monarchy);
  7. a new flag (he suggested the symbols of the four Irish provinces, or more provocatively, the present tricolour with a small Union Jack inserted in the orange band, in the way Australia does with its flag);
  8. a new, non-militaristic national anthem (perhaps the all-Ireland rugby anthem Ireland's Call);
  9.  a new system of non-sectarian state education (including an end to compulsory Irish) and a new free, single-tier health service without Catholic Church involvement.

While some of the above is uncontroversial, much of it would be rejected by the Irish people if the results of a recent opinion poll in the Irish Times are to be believed, which also found that the Irish people would not accept significant increases in taxation or reductions in public services to pay for re-unification.

Pollak interpreted this as the Irish people not being ready for re-unification and not having thought seriously about the issue.

My response is:

  1. The above is not what the Irish people signed up to in the GFA and joint membership of the EU. It is unfair to accuse the Irish people of not having thought about the problem just because the DUP and UK government have trashed all elements of the agreed solution.
  2. That said (and here I agreed with Pollak) The form of Brexit chosen by the UK government and the DUP has created a new situation for  which we should prepare, as it could result in a trade war with the EU resulting in a serious depression in the UK which could create a new dynamic in UK Ireland relations.
  3. However the Irish people are under no obligation to accept conditions they don't like, and indeed could vote against re-unification if there is an attempt to impose them as part of the reunification process. You don't solve a problem of a disaffected minority by disaffecting the vast majority.
  4. Because neither unionists nor the current UK government will engage in planning for a united Ireland, any proposals on the lines Pollak suggests are purely speculative in any case, and could have minimal impact on any border poll while potentially jeopardising southern support for that form of UI.
  5. I have challenged Pollaks assertion that no one in the south has given serious thought to how a transition to a UI could be managed by outlining a proposed process including a lengthy transitionary period of joint authority and funding and continued Stormont institutions to allay fears that the financial impact could be seriously negative, at least in the short term, and that unionists would have no time to adjust to changed realities.
  6. My main fear is that a border poll could be sprung on us without notice or a jointly agreed approach to any transition to a UI as I consider a carefully and effectively managed transition to be essential to maintaining peace and assuring greater prosperity for all in the future.

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Sun Aug 7th, 2022 at 10:57:15 AM EST
Just so, Frank.  Pollak is basically claiming reunification will take a long time because nationalists are not thinking about it seriously when what he's really saying is the nationalists are not thinking about the unionists' version of reunification seriously.  And there is no way to take the unionists' version of reunification seriously since it includes minority rule and UK interference with internal affairs.  It's rather like saying the Western Allies were not thinking seriously about German reunification in 1945 because they didn't accept the Soviet version of German reunification.  And yes it took 45 years and the end of Soviet subsidies and the Soviet Union itself, but the way the Tories are going, it should take considerably less time for the UK to be in that position.
by rifek on Sun Aug 7th, 2022 at 10:29:50 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The north Ireland unionists are interesting as a particular case of a wider phenomena (that I suspect is going to continue to widen).

The way I see it, protestant unionists in Ireland as a political group and identity was created in response to the Irish rebellion in 1798. In order to widen rifts on Ireland the various non-Anglican protestant groups were given a bit higher position then the Catholics, so that the Anglican ruling class had a bit wider foundation to stand on. The purpose was of course to keep Ireland ruled from London.

But that project failed in 1921. Despite the failure of the wider project London kept North Ireland. If we assume that it wasn't concern for the ruled or anything like that, I think it is reasonable to note that sabotaging the Irish national project was a rational mean to uphold the Empire. To encourage the others so to speak by showing the Empires willingness to act out of spite on its way out. Similar to the US intentionally trying to cause mass starvation in Afghanisatan by stealing their money on the way out.

In line with the previous policies the protestant areas were also the richest, because some of the wealth on its way to London had stayed in the protestant areas. Of course, they didn't stay that way, because the protestant areas were no longer a means to suck wealth out of Ireland, but instead increasingly a back water.

With almost all of the empire gone, the point of a warning example approaches zero. If North Ireland can be used to abuse the withdrawal treaty from EU, it will be used for that, but other than that...

And that leaves the protestant unionists on Ireland abandoned by their empire, having their primary purpose and their back up purpose failed. But not in a particular hostile environment unless they choose to make it so.

So continue with empty political gestures in the hope of getting back relevance? Make nice with the neighbours? Move to England and grumble about a conflict people there no longer care about?

And that in a nut shell is where it becomes relevant on a larger scale. England wasn't the only empire playing divide and rule, and protestant unionists in North Ireland isn't the only group feeling abandoned by a project the central power has lost interest in.

by fjallstrom on Tue Aug 9th, 2022 at 09:31:22 AM EST
You can widen the net even somewhat further. There are lots of groups (mostly formerly white ruling class) who have been left behind by de-colonisation, globalisation, technological development, widening inequalities in capitalism, and the rise of far eastern economies and polities.

Think Trump supporters in the USA, South African whites, and far right party supporters in Europe. As Hillary was pilloried for saying, they cling to their guns and religion and embrace wild conspiracy theories. Unionists have always had a close ideological bond with Ex Apartheid and Rhodesian white supporters, Zionists, and the religious far right in the USA. Dr. Ian Paisley's honorary doctorate was from a far right US religious College. Many believe in creationism and a variety of QAnon conspiracy theories. They genuinely supported Brexit as a form of anti liberal capitalist  globalist conspiracy.

What they have in common is that they have lost power for geopolitical or technological reasons. Many are not that bright and with low educational achievement who have lost out on the higher paying knowledge economy jobs. They are used to privilege and deference and have lost what they feel are their rightful entitlements and heritage - and somebody else has to be to blame - blacks, Muslims, Chinese, immigrants, Catholics, liberals, gays, faceless eurocrats - take your pick. They want to "take back control" and can only lose if others cheat.

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Tue Aug 9th, 2022 at 10:22:34 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Indeed, that was were I was heading. And as wealth is concentrated in fewer and fewer hands, and the influence of the former Euro-centric empires (including the current US one) keeps shrinking, more groups that was slightly elevated will realise their abandonment.

And with the falling relative position and generally stagnating incomes under neoliberalism comes material misery in combination with spiritual misery.

I think you are on the right track with a combination of respecting their identity and focusing on the material issues. You don't have to love the hated Other that your group has been primed against for generations as long as you can get along, and maybe eventually realise that fixing pot holes etc is easier in collaboration.

by fjallstrom on Tue Aug 9th, 2022 at 01:54:56 PM EST
[ Parent ]

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