Described as “historic”, Saturday’s Ireland Future event was packed with effective soundbites, passion and enthusiasm – but little else.
here there was almost no critical analysis, no questioning of the participants in the panels, no detailed plans, no talk of compromises.
Predictably, the crowd of 5,000 was clearly already on the united Ireland train.
In fact, almost all speakers clearly preached to the choir – without realizing that many people do not like preaching or choirs.
For a border consultation to be successful, part of the union community in Northern Ireland and the so-called middle ground must be convinced of the benefits of reunification.
That means detailing how a healthcare system, education, police, governmental structures, and many other aspects of society would work.
It means convincing the large trade union community, which describes itself as proudly British, that their rights, identity and culture are being protected.
I had hoped there would be some meat on the bones of the United Ireland plans, which were detailed on Saturday, but that wasn’t the case.
There was talk of how an island-wide healthcare system would work, how the United Ireland project would be funded and protection for trade unionists.
But it was only mentioned in the sense of “We have to explain this”… followed by no explanation or detail.
An independent Sunday poll over the weekend found that while a majority in the Republic supports united Ireland, 52 per cent said they were unwilling to pay a higher income tax to fund it, compared with 35 per cent who said they would would do it. It is questions like these that need to be addressed.
Passionate feelings and witty remarks, of which there was plenty on Saturday, are not enough.
What was most revealing about the event, amidst all the cheers and pats on the back almost every time reunion was declared imminent, were the rare occasions when sections of the crowd booed – essentially every time compromise was mentioned.
Tanaiste Leo Varadkar, who will soon become Taoiseach for the second time, was realistic about what needs to happen for the reunion to happen.
“We cannot build our future on the basis of narrow majorities or the wishes of a single community,” he said. “For these reasons, I believe the goal should be to get as large a majority as possible in future polls in both jurisdictions. 50 percent plus one may be enough on paper, but will not bring any success in practice.
“Our only hope depends on coming up with a proposal – North and South – that will be able to win democratic approval. That will require compromises.”
Mr Varadkar, who described the event as a “statement of intent”, stressed he didn’t have “all the answers”, saying he believed there were models that could work.
“Northern Ireland, for example, could go ahead with a devolved parliament, with cross-community power-sharing, its own courts, education system, police and health services,” he added.
“We could continue to have North-South bodies and East-West cooperation. We could strengthen and deepen both strands.
“There are many ideas how this can be implemented. I don’t have time today to go into detail about that. Some might see this as no change, but the biggest change would be the most important – the sovereign government would be Ireland.
“The right to be Irish, British or both and to be accepted as such would survive as enshrined in the Good Friday Agreement. In the main, symbols would not change without agreement. This cannot be a forced series of relationships; it cannot be based on ultimatums or demands. It cannot be the triumph of one tribe over another. Because otherwise it will be poisonous and we will all suffer.”
Cue the boos.
So what does that tell us?
It confirms that it’s an all-or-nothing strategy (similar to one pursued by militant Republicans who have failed over three decades of conflict) for some united Irishmen, and they appear to want complete subjugation of the unionist community.
They seem to forget that the Good Friday Agreement, which many speakers on Saturday hailed as paving the way for reunification, was about compromise. It was give and take. It was a settlement.
They seem to forget that unionists, funnily enough, are very fond of being part of the union with Britain. These boos tell us that some want something more like a hostile takeover.
Despite all the talk about attracting unionists, protecting their culture and identity, many unionists will rightly be skeptical.
What would have been the reaction if some of the unionized parties had taken part in Saturday’s negotiations?
DUP founder Ian Paisley once said, “If you take the forums away from democracy, you’re left with nothing.”
His words are truer today than ever, even if they were uttered in very different circumstances. He was taken away by Stormont police after a sit-in against the dissolution of the gathering in 1986. North-South and East-West bodies are just that, forums of democracy, and they should be protected.
When John Hume was criticized years ago for reaching out to Republicans in the pursuit of peace, he was widely criticized. The SDLP leader said he would speak to anyone and refer to Gerry Adams, but there were many who said it was a mistake.
But it was his talks with Sinn Féin that paved the way to multi-party talks and eventual signing of the Good Friday Agreement. It showed how talks between political rivals can lead to compromise and a largely peaceful transition to a new political framework.
But unless compromise is on the agenda, many will not feel welcome in a united Ireland. If that’s the case, I don’t want to be there.
https://www.independent.ie/news/irelands-future-plenty-of-talk-and-soundbites-but-no-meat-on-bones-of-how-unity-would-work-in-practice-42034954.html Ireland’s Future – Lots of talk and soundbites but no meat on the bone about how unity would work in practice