Unionist presence must be accommodated


By Joe McVeigh

Since the Brexit vote the future is uncertain for both unionists and nationalists/republicans. There is much talk, in some republican/nationalist circles of Irish reunification being the solution to our problems over Brexit. Nationalists must begin any discussion about the future possibility of reunification from a position of respect for unionist fears about the future in a reunified Ireland. Unionists have fears about their economic future as well as fears about their culture and identity. These fears must be acknowledged and dealt with.

In the southern 26 counties there needs to be a new understanding of what reunification means from a unionist perspective. It is not a matter of adding on ‘the missing’ six north-eastern counties and then going back to business as usual. The southern state has failed to provide adequately for many of its citizens. I think of the homeless and the hospital waiting lists. There is a two-tier society there which favours the wealthy. There needs to be a radical change in outlook and attitude among people in the south and nationalists/republicans in the north. Reunification can never be seen as a victory for Irish nationalism.

In any discussions about the future we must begin with a clean slate. It must be a completely new beginning. What arrangements will be made for unionist identity and culture in a reunified country? What about the national anthem and the flag? How would the economy be organised? How would those communities which lost most by the change be reimbursed? How will the unionist link with Britain be maintained? Is there any other way of envisioning a unified Ireland that would satisfy most nationalists/republicans?

Since a majority in the north voted to remain in Europe it is now possible to envision a reunified Ireland which eventually would have the consent of a sizeable section of the unionist population. Already, some unionists are disillusioned with the Brexit result. They see the damage this will cause to the economy and to the social life of the country.

However, if a majority of unionists are to buy into the idea of a reunified Ireland, it must be an attractive proposition to them. It must guarantee that their jobs and pensions are safe for a specified period of years. It must offer them health and social services as good as they have had under Westminster and it must offer educational and secure job opportunities.

We are now in a new political situation with the north being taken out of the EU. At some, as yet, unspecified time in the future there will be a border poll/unity referendum which will determine the political future of this island.

One way of dealing with the new situation and of preserving the Belfast Agreement is for the Dublin government to discuss with London the transfer of sovereignty from London to Dublin. Such a new arrangement would leave the north as it is, keep the assembly in Stormont, allow northern representation in a southern parliament and allow the English monarch some symbolic role as the one to whom a section of the people owe allegiance. I believe there is nothing to lose and everything to gain from such a compromise. The border is then changed to the sea around the island.

In that scenario it might be possible to create something bigger and better for all of us than either state has provided up till now.

The people from the south as well as republicans and nationalists in the north must show courage and generosity in accommodating the unionist presence in any new political arrangements on this island.

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