What does ‘unity’ even mean? If a citizens’ assembly is ever set up to examine the prospect of a united Ireland, this would be a good opening question.
The growing clamour for a 32-county republic is understandable given the Brexit mess, the lack of an Assembly in Stormont and the renewed confidence in the Irish economy.
But many of those beating the drum for movement on the age-old question appear not to have thought about the consequences.
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Yes, most of us would love to see a united Ireland. There was a time when journalists asked politicians whether they believed it would happen ‘in their lifetime’.
The conversation has now shifted to ‘when’ this island will stand undivided rather than ‘if’. But that idea of unity must be much more than just a land-grab of Fermanagh, Armagh, Tyrone, Down, Antrim and Derry.
For decades, the IRA terrorised and tortured not just its unionist rivals but also those of a nationalist persuasion who just wanted the best from life.
There is no point in franchising one section of the community in the North by merely out-casting another.
At his annual Christmas round-table interview, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar was asked whether it was time to strike. After all, part of his leadership pitch to the membership of Fine Gael in 2017 was that he would restore the party’s tagline as the ‘United Ireland Party’.
And Mr Varadkar has pledged nationalists “will never again be left behind by an Irish government”. But he is still in no hurry to force the question of unity, even though those in nationalist circles would like him to.
In reply to the question, he told reporters: “We have to learn from our history and we have to understand that there are a million people on this island who are British and are unionists and we need to respect that and make sure that they are part of the future and that they are accommodated and that they feel part of the future.”
For many that is an unpalatable, yet sensible answer. The time is coming when the six counties are once again considered exclusively part of Ireland. But they will come at a cost.
Those of us living through the latest economic boom will have to pay financially for adopting a region where public infrastructure is crumbling.
The coming together of health and education systems will not be an overnight job.
And those who walk the corridors of power in Dublin will no longer be able to look on the DUP as political Neanderthals.
So while we should aspire to a united Ireland, let’s not rush it, especially as it’s coming anyway. Instead let’s, for once, take our time and make it as united as possible.
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