Although the issue looms large over all political discourse in Northern Ireland, it is rarely subject to serious, detailed, public policy discussion and analysis. Now, figures on both sides of the border must consider the complex realityby Siobhán Fenton / August 8, 2019 / Leave a comment
The prospect of a united Ireland holds a curious and contradictory place in politics on both sides of the border. In Northern Ireland it achieves the feat of being simultaneously ever present in political discourse, without ever being truly discussed.
Due to the nature of Northern Ireland’s community divisions as an ethno-national conflict reaching back centuries, most people here will hold the same view on the ‘constitutional question’ as their fathers and forefathers. It remains very rare, even in the post-Good Friday Agreement era, for an individual to change their view on this fundamental question.
The question of whether Northern Ireland ought to remain in the United Kingdom or join a united Ireland has therefore always been largely viewed as an instinctive, inherent feeling with which people are born, rather than an issue which it is worth trying to persuade someone about.
As a result, although the issue looms large over all political discourse in Northern Ireland, it is rarely subject to serious, detailed, public policy discussion and analysis.
A new constitution?
With Brexit, however, that is changing. Now, however, polling suggests that some unionists may be swayed towards reunification, especially those who are liberal and pro-EU and fear the impact of a hard or no-deal Brexit.
Earlier this week at a public talk in a Republican area of west Belfast, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar told the audience that in the event of a united Ireland, “I think it would result in some of the mistakes made 100 years ago, when partition happened, being repeated but just the other way around—a huge number of people, those from a unionist, British, Ulster background, being brought into a united Ireland against their will.”
He added that the Republic could not merely assimilate Northern Ireland in the same way that East and West Germany had rejoined, warning that rather it would become a new country, requiring “a new constitution.”
In this new country, Varadkar said, a number of measures would need to be undertaken to make northern unionists feel comfortable; potentially including revising the extent to which the Irish language, which many unionists hold hostile views towards,…