Tag Archives: Northern Ireland

Ireland Is Yours. Ireland Is Mine. Ireland Is Ours.

On 3 May 1921, the island of Ireland was partitioned into two respective jurisdictions, pursuant of the Government of Ireland Act passed the previous year. Six counties were separated from the remaining twenty-six, a minority was divided from a majority. The fact remains, the breaking up of such a small island, geographically and population-wise, was hardly an act of political or economic genius. However, regardless of whether one thinks partition should have been devised and implemented in the past or not, it is completely reasonable and rational to think partition, in this day and age, should not continue. With two separate tax regimes, two separate legal systems, and two separate and competing economic development programmes, accompanied with trade barriers, partition is inhibiting the growth of our island. A Harvard Club study estimates a united Ireland would see a boost of €36.2 billion in GDP in the first eight years alone. Whereas another independent, unbiased study from the University of British Columbia predicts a GDP boost of up to 1.2% (Irish Times, 2015.) Reunification makes legitimate, sound sense; conversely, partition is largely impractical.

To proclaim the many flaws of the North, whilst maintaining the flawlessness of the South, frankly would be wrong and definitely inaccurate. Unity of our island cannot and will not take place overnight, the process will not be a smooth road with an absence of any potholes. However, that is part of the challenge ahead; a challenge that can be an exciting, invigorating one if we open our hearts and minds to those of differing views. A new, transformed Ireland for everyone is precisely what we, at Sinn Féin, are striving for – things cannot merely stay the same. This process will plainly not succeed if it sees the absorption of the North into a stubborn, blinkered Republic, unable to acknowledge and respect the existence of a unionist population. Those of us here in the twenty-six counties must educate our family members, friends, neighbours and acquaintances alike, a united Ireland is for each and every one of us who call this island our home. That includes those of us of different denominations, religions, skin colours, cultural traditions, health conditions, ages, gender identities or sexual orientations. Ireland is yours. Ireland is mine. Ireland is ours.

The foundations upon which partition was built nearly one hundred years ago, concepts of sectarianism, tribalism and conflicting convictions, should no longer reflect the modern day. Less and less young people in Ireland attend Mass or any other form of Christian service, thus, denominational differences are becoming less and less relevant. Just as nationalism should not equate Catholicism, unionism most certainly should not equate Protestantism. As progressives, we believe in reform and positive advancements in our society; to say Sinn Féin is a party just for Catholic traditionalists is simply not accurate or fair. We stand by inclusivity; divisiveness is not on our agenda and it never will be. A significant proportion of the population in the North are of a distinct denominational and ethnic background; in a united Ireland, the protection of such people must be a high priority. Such people are just as Irish as anyone else and their central place in a new Ireland must be echoed in a nationwide debate on unity. As a component of this, Sinn Féin advocate the passing of a Bill of Rights for all citizens and a new national constitution which will reflect the egalitarian nature of our new, united Republic.

Irish unity is already taking place behind the curtains, slowly but surely. Two years ago, former First Minister Peter Robinson, with the support of his DUP colleagues, made calls to the British government to instate a corporate tax rate of 12.5% in the North (Belfast Telegraph, 2015.) Such a form of fiscal harmonisation with the remainder of Ireland is effectively, in the economic sense, a form of Irish unity. How is it that individuals who have resisted so fervently to the cause of reunification for a century now suddenly support such a move? The answer is surprisingly simplistic. Economically, the six counties are a severe drain on the average UK taxpayer and the deep cracks are steadily beginning to show. With the cost of sustaining the North at a current cost of £20 billion per annum, but with contributions of only £9 billion in taxes each year, the situation is unsustainable (Belfast Telegraph, 2012.) Unionist politicians who possess any kind of competence in financial affairs know that the only solution to this worsening situation is harmonising the North’s economy with the South. However, for the six counties to continue to be propped up, this must come in more than just the form of corporate tax – especially now Brexit is processing in the works. Even if President Donald Trump lowers corporate tax to 15% in the US, it is undeniable that the twenty-six counties is significantly more attractive to the investment of MNCs (as an English-speaking European foothold) than a region with a rate of 24%. Though the UK is not technically a net recipient of EU funding, the North received a multitude of benefits from its membership of the latter. In a time-frame of seven years, the EU funded €3.5 billion to the North – in agricultural projects, a clean urban transport scheme and a reconciliation programme with the border counties in the South (Newsletter, 2016.) In addition to this, farmers and rural communities in the North will suffer as CAP accounts for an estimated 80% of agricultural incomes.

All of the aforementioned benefits are now no longer on the table, which will undoubtedly strike profound damage on the already fragile economic climate in the six counties. Perhaps what is most unsettling about this is the fact the people of the North democratically voted against the UK’s withdrawal from the EU (56%), even though their former First Minister Arlene Foster insisted it was in the North’s best interests (Irish News, 2016.) For the sake of exploring all factors which could potentially realise, the prospect of a so-called ‘hard-border’ ought not to be dismissed. If a ‘hard border’ is established along the boundaries of the two political jurisdictions on our island, then all-Ireland relations could, unfortunately, take a turn for the worst. Although all sides of the divide, including Prime Minister Theresa May and President of the European Council Donald Tusk, do not wish to see this, only time can possibly determine this – with negotiations between the EU and UK rapidly deteriorating. Many Irishmen and Irishwomen, North and South, cross the border each and every day to reach their place of employment, to purchase goods and indeed, for social purposes. A ‘hard border’ does not benefit anyone, it would be economically disastrous. Brexit is tremendously punitive in itself, there is no joy in any such knock on effects. An alternative for the people of the North, to vote in a plebiscite on the question of Irish unity, would be a respectful, credible move for the governments of the UK and the twenty-six counties. Arlene Foster, who no longer wields any political power in the North, has stated that a border poll would be ‘destablising’ for the North in such turbulent times (RTÉ, 2017.) If this is the case, then how can Theresa May and the establishment Tories at Westminster justify calling a general election?

Proposals for a border poll are not radical in nature and cannot be fought off indefinitely. The time to discuss Irish unity is now, not tomorrow or the following day– in spite of what some other, self-proclaimed republicans may say… The people should be given a choice following an informed, reasoned and respectful debate on unity. This is the time for all parties and the Irish government to talk, plan and build for unity. Particularly now given the all-clear from the EU that the North could automatically rejoin the organisation by unifying with the twenty-six counties. Change, much like a stream, can only be halted temporarily before the current overpowers you and takes you along with it.

Sources:

Unification of Ireland reports by Harvard Club and University of British Columbia: http://www.irishtimes.com/business/economy/unification-of-ireland-could-bring-in-36-5bn-in-eight-years-1.2435505

Peter Robinson and DUP support fiscal harmonisation with the Republic: http://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/northern-ireland/northern-ireland-corporation-tax-rate-to-be-125-says-peter-robinson-in-west-belfast-31028408.html

Tax consultant warns of the North’s impending economic ‘meltdown’: http://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/business/news/top-expert-warns-northern-ireland-economy-is-facing-meltdown-28779242.html

How the North benefitted from EU funding: http://www.newsletter.co.uk/news/business/where-do-eu-grants-to-northern-ireland-go-1-7233873

Former First Minister Arlene Foster throws support behind Brexit: http://www.irishnews.com/news/2016/02/22/news/eu-referendum-arlene-foster-joins-theresa-villiers-on-brexit-425429/

Former First Minister calls the prospect of a border poll ‘destabilising’: https://www.rte.ie/news/ulster/2017/0505/872798-border-poll/

Brexit: An Irish Perspective

The potential exit of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland from the European Union, more commonly known by the snappy portmanteau ‘Brexit,’ has gotten everyone talking. To me, the concept of the U.K. closing itself off from the remainder of Europe is deeply concerning, both from an economic point of view and a diplomatic one.

President Barack Obama, during his visit to the U.K., has made it abundantly clear that he is staunchly opposed to a British withdrawal from the E.U. Obama sensibly cited the Northern Ireland peace process and how much it has achieved since it was effected in 1999, following the Good Friday Agreement. This lasting peace could not have endured without co-operation on both sides of the border, and now a ‘Brexit’ threatens to undo all of the commendable progress that has been made. I would be more inclined to believe in the words of Barack Obama over the likes of UKIP’s Nigel Farage.

Despite the vast improvements observed in Northern Ireland’s society, once fraught with violent sectarianism, there is still a long way to go. However, no further progress can take place if the British people ill-advisedly vote to leave. ‘Brexit’ would serve only to alienate the Northern Irish nationalists from the Republic, with which they have ethnic, cultural and historical ties. The concept of strict border controls on the N.I.-R.O.I. border will directly affect ten counties and is absolutely appalling. ‘Brexit’ would serve only to afflict trade and business between the U.K. and the Republic. That cannot be emphasised enough. People who possess dual nationality and are employed on the opposite side of the border from where they reside will have immense and unnecessary difficulty in their everyday lives. Border controls along the N.I.-R.O.I. border will be far too reminiscent of the past to be even remotely a good thing.

Perhaps the most insulting and frustrating part of this campaign is the response received from the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP.) First Minister Arlene Foster stated back in February that her party would back the ‘Brexiters.’ To me, that is a massive kick in the teeth to the Irish people and the entire peace process. For it undermines the close-knit relationship the 32 counties currently have, and undoubtedly that will come back to haunt her someday. It is also a daily occurrence for people, north and south, to cross the border for recreational purposes without any disturbance. The current Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Theresa Villiers is also a Brexiter, which only adds insult to injury.

‘Brexit’ would serve only to stir up trouble in Scotland, with which the U.K. has a fragile relationship. The Scottish National Party (SNP) has 54 out of 59 Scottish seats in the British House of Commons and is experiencing a surge of support among Scots who feel cheated by the DevoMax pledge made by the Conservatives, the Liberal Democrats, and Labour. First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has promised a second independence referendum if there is a “material change” in Scotland’s political situation – ‘Brexit’ would deliver a said material change. Much like the people of the Irish Republic, the vast majority of Scottish people are pro-E.U. and are prepared to accept the many benefits that come with membership and participation. If the U.K. leaves the E.U. it is very likely that Scotland will leave the U.K. – an inevitability in a matter of two years according to former First Minister Alex Salmond.

Admittedly, the quickly deteriorating situation in our backyard is alarming, but surely that is more of a reason to remain part of the E.U. Merciless terrorist attacks in prominent European cities and countless floods of refugees pouring into Europe are major problems to us all. Nobody has denied it, nobody is denying it. The E.U. is designed to foster stronger and healthier relations between its member states, while simultaneously upholding peace across the continent. Membership and active involvement in the E.U. are of the U.K.’s highest national interest. We, as European cousins, must work together and tackle whatever adversities we are faced with. Compromise is the key solution, reform in the E.U is much more preferable than the recklessness of a ‘Brexit.’ It cannot be argued, peace is imperative.

Seldom would I express any form of praise towards a Conservative, but the work Prime Minister David Cameron is carrying out to prevent the U.K.’s citizens from voting to leave the E.U. invokes my approval. Whereas the less said about the former Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, the better. The leave campaign is fuelled by xenophobic misinformation and Britain’s delusions of empire. Indeed a British withdrawal will negatively affect the Republic and the mainland member states, however, the U.K. is certainly not the superpower it once was. But let me make this clear, that is not an Anglophobic statement. I harbour no hatred whatsoever towards the U.K. and its people, in fact, the very contrary. Unfortunately one has to clarify such obvious statements in order to avoid a petty onslaught – which is becoming increasingly common among those who support ‘Brexit.’

I was born in northern Wales and have strong familial connections to the U.K., therefore I feel a great sense of warmth towards the nation. I would like to continue to see a robust United Kingdom within the European Union, which is able to have its voice heard and is constructive in its criticisms. The British people have every right to determine their future, as do all communities and peoples – but they must act for the good of all their citizens, in all four constitutional countries of the U.K.

‘Brexit’ would serve only to create trade complications with the United States and the other member states who will remain within the E.U. The Republic of Ireland imported an estimated 43% of goods from the U.K. in 2012, not to mention up to 90% of its petroleum and natural gas is of British origin. But the Republic can turn towards other E.U. states for increasing trade relations, particularly France which is geographically nearby. It wouldn’t be an especially desirable move, but it is feasible.

The U.K. will suffer dramatically if it parts ways with the E.U., and I genuinely do not want to see that happen. I cannot understand why anyone in a sound state of mind would want their nation to suffer. A return to the U.K.’s ‘splendid isolation’ would be economically detrimental. Co-operation in Europe in such dark times is essential.