By Joseph F. Leary
One of Britain’s most respected commentators, Chief Editorial Writer and columnist Mary Dejevsky of The London Independent has written a provocative article on Northern Ireland and the prospect of a United Ireland. In a column published in the Independent in August and two days later in the Belfast Telegraph, Dejevsky suggests – perhaps tongue and cheek - that Britain sell Northern Ireland to the Republic of Ireland as part of their solution to their budget problems.
Of course this would need the approval of Northern Ireland voters but the reporter was speculating on the benefits of such a move.
Dejevsky said, “More and more, Northern Ireland is another country. So perhaps it is time for Westminster (Britain’s government) to accept this, and even gain some benefit from it.” Dejevsky claims public opinion in Britain is increasingly “unmoved” by happenings in Northern Ireland. This may make some sense when comparing the population of Britain, 61 million, to Northern Ireland’s 1.8 million (Scotland is 5.2 million and Wales 3.0 million).
Britain’s new conservative government coalition has huge economic concerns and is becoming weary of the attention Northern Ireland requires. Northern Ireland is financed almost entirely by London each year. All Northern Ireland tax revenue is collected by Britain but Northern Ireland requires an additional $15 billion dollars from the British people for its operating budget each year – more per capita than any other part of Great Britain.
In late September British authorities once again raised the possibility of dissident IRA bombings in London creating even more distaste and discomfort with Northern Ireland.
Such a transition to a United Ireland would require careful planning and only take place over several years. The rights of all the people of Northern Ireland would have to be protected and iron clad assurances would have to be given by Britain and the Republic that everyone would be respected.
The Northern Ireland Assembly form of local government in place today is so constricted by checks and balances of power that little is being accomplished. A visiting Northern Ireland Secretary of State acknowledged this during a visit to Boston a year ago when he said that the system in place at present would have to change in time. So change is coming and the possibility of a move towards a United Ireland is worthy of consideration.
The finances of the Republic of Ireland today would discourage taking on the responsibility for Northern Ireland, but if the possibility were real what leader of Ireland would not jump at the chance to make Ireland whole. He or she would have a permanent place in history. Funds might magically appear from many quarters, including the United States if a new Ireland were to appear on the horizon.
It should remembered that all major political parties in the Republic of Ireland are pledged to work for a United Ireland and both Nationalist parties in the North representing approximately 45% of the electorate there are in favor of a United Ireland. In fact it is estimated that over 80% of the people in all of Ireland would vote for a reuniting of the two separate parts of Ireland.
The dissidents in Northern Ireland would lose their cause and might even become law abiding citizens. Certainly violence in the name of a United Ireland would stop.
Mary Dejevsky’s column suggesting a United Ireland makes the argument, “With the Protestant majority in the North smaller than it has ever been, and fast-vanishing, assent to unification may anyway be just a matter of time. Would it not be in everyone’s interest to hasten it along, and allow Britain to bask in a rare moment of magnanimity?”
It seems a United Ireland is coming. When and how is the question.