By Patrick Donahoe
A welcome off-shoot from the recent ‘Brexit’ referendum in Britain is that talk of a United Ireland has come again to the fore of political discourse all across Ireland - even in the mainstream of the 26-Counties - coupled also with more favourable polling numbers regards the prospect of Irish Unity.
Radio stations such as Newstalk took reporters onto the streets and asked the general public their opinions. Unsurprisingly there was a warm response to the notion of a reunified Ireland, but lacking from the discourse was an honest addressing of the facts - with experts plucking figures from thin air and passing them off as gospel in relation to the annual deficit the Six Counties accumulates and that Britain supposedly bridges as an act of charity (from £6-14 billion!).
Regardless, it’s worth noting that Ireland as a singular entity ceased being a net contributor to Britain in 1911 - Britain a few years later shedding itself of the non-contributory part of Ireland and keeping the industrialised North (which at the time of partition generated 75 percent of the economic output on the island and was wealthier per head than any part of Britain).
The decision to divide Ireland was sold at the time, and to this day, as a gesture of goodwill and love for their loyal patrons who died in World War I. I’d argue otherwise and say that, like every other decision, it was an act of self-interest done purely on an economic basis.
Just as the reasons given for partition have been distorted, so too are the arguments as to why it should be maintained. As noted earlier, various experts continue to trot out random figures for the prospective tab the 26-Counties would need to pick up in the event of Irish reunification. All are false and indeed English economist Michael Burke, in a report using the British government’s own ONS data from 2013, showed that the annual fiscal deficit was closer to £730 million and not anywhere near the £10 billion quoted by many.
Findings by the University of British Columbia also forecast a €36 billion injection into the economy (over eight years) upon an end to trade barriers internal to Ireland and a corresponding harmonisation of the tax systems in the event of Irish Unity, highlighting that we would operate better as a single economy with a single tax code, currency, public services, governmental bodies etc.
All of this has been ignored by the chattering classes since new-found interest on the merits of a United Ireland emerged in wake of the Brexit vote - which is disappointing but not at all surprising.
In Scotland likewise, Britain refuses transparency on key issues and as with the North uses smaller regions to bolster England’s economic health at their expense, distorting the picture. A prime example is Scottish whisky. Hugely popular worldwide and with a large market in North America, it contributes £4.5 billion per annum to the UK Exchequer. The vast majority of that total is not attributed to Scotland as the UK state attributes it to the point where it leaves the UK itself - which conveniently is largely England.
There are similar goings-on in the North, which distorts appearances and impacts on those seeking a reasoned decision on where they see their future. As with the ‘love bomb’ David Cameron threw at Scotland during the referendum campaign in 2014 - just as with Ireland in 1922 - their desire to keep Scotland was not based on any spirit of benevolence towards Scotland or her people.
It was purely with self-interest in mind for England, mirrored in this country with corporate interests such as gold mines in Tyrone and fracking in Fermanagh. The reality is that, despite protesting otherwise, Britain does have selfish and economic reasons for staying in Ireland. Indeed this would explain the lack of transparency in the figures she makes available.
It is difficult for republicans to counter the ‘voodoo economics’ perpetuated by Britain to maintain the Union when the media ignores known facts when discussing the matter. What hope then that the dodgy bookkeeping distorting the debate in the pro-union camp’s favour will ever be seriously looked into? That Britain has no right to govern here in the first place aside, we should be making the case for reunification when and where we can, demanding transparency from our opponents so people can at least be armed with the facts.
Nelson Mandela once said, ‘let your choices be defined by your hopes and not your fears’. Making a positive case for Irish Unity is in my opinion vital to the campaign for a national referendum on Irish Unity. Should we succeed towards that objective and take part in such an act of self-determination, deciding our country’s constitutional future, we must ensure our arguments are clear and coherent and that we indeed appeal to the hopes, not the fears, of the Irish people.
* Patrick Donahoe is a former Organiser with the 1916 Societies and current Secretary of the Sean Heuston Society in Dublin.