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.
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/