A border poll must be only the opening part of the reunification debate.

Previously published by The Irish Independent.

It’s ironic to think that the single biggest outcome of Brexit could be the replacement of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland with Great England (featuring Wales and the Isle of Man.). But it’s not an unreasonable to see a domino track from Brexit to Scottish Independence to a United Ireland. This is a real live proposition and we need to start considering it.

So here’s the bit that will activate a thousand Shinnerbots and the usual Free Stater/West Brit name throwing: a border poll can’t just trigger a Brexit-style united Ireland without knowing the actual details of what a United Ireland will look like. 

Yes, I know, this is the bit where people jump up with well-worn copies of the Good Friday Agreement and a loud “Well, actually…” I get it. A border poll in the north (and only the north, something many in the republic don’t get) transfers sovereignty in principle.

Supposing Boris decides to honour it almost immediately, regardless of the size of the winning margin or any details, just ups and out in weeks, telling the Irish government that the salaries and pensions and health funding and all the rest are our problem from midnight of day X.

Don’t be ridiculous, you say! There are agreements and understandings between Britain and Ireland and words given and Boris…..Johnson…..isn’t…..like…..that….

See the problem.

Don’t forget, we can’t force the British to not give us the north of Ireland and all its public spending and pension liabilities and victim compensation responsibilities. It’ll be the first thing we’re asked by the former unionists and not an inconsiderable number of nationalists too. 

Will we meet all Britain’s spending liabilities?

But Britain has obligations, many Shinnerbots will cry, suddenly realising that it is they trying to convince me that I need to trust the British Tories to keep their word.  

Guess what: I don’t.

The Taoiseach will of course go on television that night and announce that the people of the north of Ireland do not need to worry. The Irish state will honour their NHS funding and pensions and all the rest.

Then the DUP will point out all the social welfare payments in the south that are higher than in the north, and demand parity of esteem. 

It’ll be at this stage that the minister for finance will be sending for a new pair of trousers. 

The Americans! The EU! The United Nations! Bill Gates! The National Lottery! The 2:30 at Chepstow! All will be declared to be the source of funding the ten to fifteen billion in extra spending we suddenly have to find. And all, suffering the same Covid ravaging of their national finances that we went through will say the same thing: sorry Paddy. You wanted it, you pay for it.

The minister for finance will know the reality. Yes, we probably can borrow for a while, the legacy of not going all Maduro On The Shannon back in the day. But it’s not sustainable. Either taxes go up, or spending is cut, but neither necessarily on either side of the former border. 

The minister, in front of a wall of tricolours announces that we, the Irish people, have always known that sacrifices would have to be made in the cause of unity, and so it has come to pass.     

By the way, speaking as a republican, I don’t regard Free State as an insult. I just like reminding people what it stands for: the section of the Irish people who actually defeated the British in our bit.   

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *