As Brexit could trigger a united Ireland, republicans need to be careful what they wish for

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Peadar O'Cearnaigh

UK elections in December 2019 saw big gains for the SNP. So much so it led to a renewed call for a second Scottish independence referendum. And in that same election, the demise of unionism in the north of Ireland lead to a discussion about the future of the UK.

The drop in support for unionism also fuelled speculation about the “unthinkable”. A united Ireland. Indeed, unionism’s dissatisfaction with Johnson’s Brexit deal may have already put it “on the road to a united Ireland”. It’s music to the ears of ‘United Irelanders’.

But it doesn’t follow that it’s music to the ears of Irish republicans. Irish republicans like me. Because if the development of certain ridiculous conversations in Ireland takes root, it would mean an utterly pointless united Ireland. A united Ireland within the British Commonwealth. The kind of united Ireland that looks good on paper but defeats its entire purpose. And it would, quite frankly, be an insult to people on all sides who gave everything in the struggle for a truly free and united Irish republic.

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Dose of reality for the DUP

The DUP took centre stage in UK politics in the aftermath of the 2017 election when it propped up a minority and austerity-driven Conservative government. But since Johnson’s overall majority on 12 December, the DUP’s support is no longer needed. It’s surplus to his requirements, and it knows it.

To make matters worse for the DUP, it lost two of its ten seats, including that of its Commons leader Nigel Dodds. It saw its vote drop by over 5%. And unionism lost its majority in Westminster to Irish republicanism for the first time.

Unionism’s “own goal”

That being said, it could just be an electoral setback. It’ll bounce back, so nothing to worry about. Ordinarily, that might be the case were it not for Johnson’s Brexit deal that sees the UK leave the EU by 31 January 2020.

While the north of Ireland leaves too, it doesn’t leave completely, and it will be somewhat stranded from the rest of the UK afterwards. This by itself led to speculation of the UK breaking up. Indeed, former leader of the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) Mike Nesbitt said as much:

My position is that Brexit is unionism’s biggest ever own goal. And the outcome, may be, the end of the United Kingdom

And political commentator Andrew Marr suggested the election result could see the DUP doing a deal with Dublin:

they could do the one thing that seems almost unthinkable – they could start to talk to Dublin about the future.

No appetite for DUP values in the south

Marr’s comment about DUP talks with Dublin almost sounded somewhat matter of fact. As if Dublin would only be too delighted to talk to them and welcome them into a “united Irish economy”. But the people of the south may not want a united Ireland that panders to a party like the DUP.

A party that opposes gay marriage, a woman’s right to choose, the Irish language, and that incited hatred against Catholics. Ireland has come a long way since then, and it has no desire to return to those dark days. The south of Ireland brought in same-sex marriage by popular vote in 2015 and repealed the eighth amendment to its constitution in 2018 that had prohibited abortion.

The discourse

In recent months, different discussions have taken place around Ireland that leads me to believe a united Ireland may be of little purpose. Because these discussions among significant players in Irish politics are floating the idea of a united Ireland within the UK commonwealth.

A united Ireland within a commonwealth with either a monarch or elected leader as its figurehead is not a republic. A republic does not have any connection to the monarchy, and the Queen is the head of the commonwealth. There is no way membership of the commonwealth can be packaged that allows it to sit correctly within a republic.

The conversation

On 28 November, I attended a talk in Dublin city centre called Shaping Our Constitutional Future. It was supposed to be the beginning of a national conversation around Irish unity. A number of the speakers talked about ‘convincing unionists’ or ‘winning over’ unionists to the idea of a united Ireland. And to be honest, even as an Irish republican, I found the conversation a bit patronising towards unionists. All we have to do is ‘win them over’, and we’re grand!

One of the speakers, comedian Paddy Cullivan, even suggested a future united Ireland might have a royal family. As a piece of comedy, this worked. As a realistic proposal for the future of this island, it’s just ludicrous. And it misses the point of why Ireland became a republic all those years ago.

A republic is a democracy free of monarchical interference, be that clandestine, symbolic, or otherwise. Any such move to royal involvement in Ireland, or membership of a commonwealth, is a backward step.

Ireland moved away from that form of oppression a long time ago, and it has no desire to return. Membership of the commonwealth may be what it takes to convince unionists of the benefits of a united Ireland. And then again it may make little difference to them. But it puts at risk everything the Irish republic has achieved.

A bitter pill

Hard as it is for an Irish republican like myself to say this, I may have to let go of a united Ireland if this is the only way it can be. A united Ireland under these comedic conditions would mean absolutely nothing. So if people really want a united Ireland, I suggest they take it a bit more seriously.

Featured image via Flickr – DunkYouTube – Screengrab

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    1. I live in the republic and work for a Belfast based company. From what I have experienced there is no way that the loyalist community can handle reunification. Its a completely different mindset. It’s not even comparable to English culture. These folks honestly believe that Northern Ireland is not Ireland. I would love to see a united Ireland, but not at the cost of upsetting so many of the protestant community who have been used and abused by the tories, over and over for centuries.
      Anyway, Irish protestants, we in the South sincerely wish you no harm. We don’t blame you for the atrocities carried out by the English establishment on Catholics for decades. We are not hung up about religion anymore and we are no threat to you. We consider you Irish whether that offends you or not. But if a partitioned state is what is necessary to prevent you and your families from being unhappy, then partitioned state it is I suppose.

    2. It’s time Britain became a Republic. The Royals are nothing but a carry over from when they ruled outside of a Parliament. Kings and Queens are just hereditary dictators and tyrants. The pageantry is entertaining but to whose benefit? The tourist trade mostly and the Treasury when the tourist dollars trickle down enough.

      I’m not quite ready to roll out the guillotines but I get closer every year they continue to bask in the limelight of the revenue from their landholdings. And just how did they get all those land holdings? By screwing the commons for centuries. So, the Sax-Coburgs changed their name to Windsor so they were not aligned with their German heritage. That’s like British gas being owned by the French Government, which they are! It’s not British Gas. It’s French gas, innit!

      If Bogus Johnson wants to satisfy his Brexit supporters he could start by sending the Royals back to Germany, confiscate their land holdings, nationalize British gas and sending the French packing, and the same with the Indian, Japanese, Korean and other foreign companies that actually ‘own’ Britain’s manufacturing economy today.

      It’s not so simple, is it. Bogus Brexit and Bogus Johnson is just a symptom of Nero fiddling while Rome burns. The media feeding the latest Royals hype is just a distraction from what really matters. The British commons continue to support the thieves that have their hands in your pockets every day. Oh yes. Bogus Johnson was born in the USA. New Your actually. Send him home too!

    3. As an Irish Republican myself I must say that problem with some of my more benighted fellow-Republicans is that they want the territory of Northern Ireland but they don’t want half of the people who live there.

      1. That’s because half (and this half is un-evenly distributed across the divide with more on the Unionist side, but it crosses both communities) are bigoted, shrill and religiously biased.

    4. There will come a time when the economic destruction of the Tory Party and the impending recession could make the case for reunification. If the EU changes their economic policies, allowing more progressive policies to the lead the way like in Portugal.
      Endorse European wide Green New Deals to combat the problems Brexit will cause within the EU. There can be a case made for reunification on the grounds of creating wealth for workers and economic stability.
      If the EU shows unity, progressive policies and wage growth for workers. The story for reunification for unionists won’t be made about their hearts for the Queen. It will be made by their heads and wallets and what is best for the their pockets, futures and families.
      This will be strengthed by the case being made in Scotland and its success. But also possibly the opposite if it is a failure.
      A lot of NI is politically and religiously very similar to Scottish Politics. There could also be an argument for NI independence and the Celtic nations creating their own separate union leaving the Queen in England.

      But if the EU is unwilling to reform, then the project won’t happen as I fear Brexit may cause the eventual break up of the EU, regarding France who have for a year, have been on the streets, Germany in decline, Italy in a mess. With the EU/ECB being largely to blame for this, with their inflexible monetary and fiscal policies. It only strengthens the need for EU reforms.

      Brexit and the EU’s ability to adapt, reform and invest in the people will be a bigger decider along side Scotland. This I think will be the key trigger to reunification.
      If the EU doesn’t reform it may struggle to keep the institutions and countries together no matter the voices of their leaders. Their people may become angry at their leaders but when they change leaders like in England, it changes the national debate and direction of political travel. The EU is no longer safe from dissenting voices which traditionally are swallowed up by the far right.
      The warning signs are everywhere.

    5. This is nonsense! Ireland is a signed up member of the EU and benefits immensely from that. The ‘Commonwealth’ is a redundant, almost by now fictional entity. It has no power or even economic identity. There is no way that the Irish people would allow a united Ireland to join the pseudo-entity of the ‘Commonwealth’.

      I don’t know what the real purpose of this article is, but it is completely spurious in it’s arguments.

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