By Aodhán Ó Baoill (for Challenges NI)
In the Irish Independent this week, Senator Frances Black writes of the referendum on a United Ireland as a ‘democratic right’. She states how we must, “prepare for a new united Ireland; a self-governing, 32-county state that can flourish and, regardless of identity, religion or culture, leave no section of our community behind again.”
Senator Black is a member of the Ireland’s Future - Todhchaí na hÉireann forum, which was set up to bring the question of unity into the heart of discussions across the island. It features voices from all corners of Irish life; politics, the GAA, community groups, and universities. The sort of voices that need to be heard in the discussion on a United Ireland.
Although I am in no way a constitutional expert, as a young person growing up in an Ireland that is constantly changing and evolving, I believe it is important that our demographic’s voice is listened to and genuinely respected in regards to the reunification of Ireland.
Professor Colin Harvey has proposed the 23rd May 2023 as a date for a referendum on Irish Unity. This marks twenty-five years since the Good Friday Agreement of 1998; an agreement that promised the future of this island would be decided by the people of this island:
“(ii) recognise that it is for the people of the island of Ireland alone, by agreement between the two parts respectively and without external impediment, to exercise their right of self-determination on the basis of consent, freely and concurrently given, North and South, to bring about a united Ireland, if that is their wish, accepting that this right must be achieved and exercised with and subject to the agreement and consent of a majority of the people of Northern Ireland”
To ignore the inevitability of the unity referendum is simply irresponsible. The DUP can no longer pull the wool over the eyes of the people and pretend that ‘Northern Ireland’ is succeeding as a state. 2021 marks the centenary of partition, and leaves no doubt as to the nature of the north as a failed state. The Secretary of State, as obligated by the Good Friday Agreement, has the authority to call a border poll when they feel that there is sufficient demand for such a referendum. The ex-chair of the Alliance Party, Trevor Lunn - who now sits as an Independent MLA for the Lagan Valley Constituency - has stated on politics.co.uk that the Secretary of State will likely call a border poll within the next five years.
He also speaks of how it is important that the people of the north understand what would be ‘on the table in terms of a welcome from the people of the south.’ This, I feel, is particularly important. The old argument that ‘the south doesn’t want us’ has fallen by the wayside. In the most recent elections in the south, Sinn Féin, for the first time in the history of the state, became the joint largest party and took up official opposition to the Fine Gael-Fianna Fáil-Green Party Coalition. Along with their joint governance in the north, the people of Ireland are beginning to recognise that there are viable, genuine alternatives to disastrous Tory rule from Westminster and different-shades-of-the-same-colour rule from Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. A United Ireland is no longer a pipe dream, it is a distinct reality.
It is my opinion that not only is the reunification of this island inevitable, it also makes economical, logistical and cultural sense. My belief that the island of Ireland should not be partitioned stems not just from emotion, but practical economic logic. On an economic level partition does not make any sense. One need only look at the past few years. Brexit and Covid-19 have been the two overarching stories dominating our headlines. The threat that a dangerous Tory Brexit posed to the people of Ireland was, and remains, clear. The DUP were happy to go along with what they were told by their Tory partners in Westminster, completely disregarding the wishes of the people of the north, who of course voted to remain in the European Union.
That is not to say that the EU does not have its own problems - it certainly does. The issue is the DUP, a party claiming to be working for the best interests of the people of the north, totally ignoring the wishes of the electorate. To them, their precious Union is more important than the people they claim to represent.
Colum Eastwood MP, the leader of the SDLP, recently spoke in the House of Commons about the end of the union, saying it is his view that ‘the United Kingdom is coming to an end.’ Again, he referenced how irresponsible it would be not to plan for a future in which Ireland is united as an independent 32 county republic. Political figures are becoming more vocal and more aware of the need to prepare and plan for the inevitability of a united Ireland.
Nor is Irish unity being laid squarely at the feet of Sinn Féin any longer. Uachtarán Shinn Féin, Mary Lou McDonald TD, in speaking to the Irish Times, said, ‘Sinn Féin will have our view and we have our proposals. But Irish Unity is everyone’s business, it’s not a Sinn Féin thing.’
Ms McDonald, like many other prominent public figures, recognises the need for the Irish Government to prepare for the inevitable unity referendum. She states later on in the same article that, ‘the unionist electoral majority that was hardwired into the design of the northern state – that’s gone… Part of what is happening is generational change’
The ‘generational change’ referred to here is the awareness of young people that a united Ireland is, without doubt, the best way for them to fulfill their hopes, dreams and aspirations. They understand that the partition of Ireland is an aberration; a poor solution to a ‘problem’ that was created by the British government in the first place. Self-governance is not some sort of fallacy, it is the preferred and most effective way of achieving our goals.
The pandemic has led to thousands of deaths across the island. In the last number of weeks, due to the new ‘UK Variant’ of the virus, the Dublin government have stopped flights from England and then gone on to impose a mandatory self-isolation period for anyone who arrives into the country from England.
And yet, one could simply bypass these new legislations by flying into Belfast from London and driving to Dublin from there. How is this a viable form of governance? It simply is not. The Covid-19 pandemic has brought to light even more the need for an all-Ireland governance, caring for the needs of all her citizens.
I’d like to refer back to Senator Black’s article and her comments on ensuring that a united Ireland is an Ireland for all. She writes:
“This isn’t about victory over unionists or any section of society. It’s about a stronger economy. It’s about a new health service that serves the needs of the people. It’s about raising educational standards for our young and creating opportunities on this island.”
A united Ireland is coming. There is no doubt about it. The young people of Ireland know that the key to a better, stronger and brighter future lies in their hands. The time is coming, very shortly, where they will seize the opportunity that is being presented to them. The chance for a true, strong and independent Irish Republic.