In the second of three articles Alanbrooke looks at Irish affairs
In the previous article I looked at economics which is quite a hurdle. This article looks at the longer term issue of the impact of putting two sets of people together. In Ulster the past always lies ahead of us, so somewhere along the line somebody needs to be squaring circles. The North, trapped in its history and with a victim mentality, somehow needs to fit in to a fast modernising, liberal state which increasingly wants to leave the past behind.
A culture shock is unavoidable – in both directions
The North and South of Ireland are different in approach . Ulster culture is more like lowland scots irrespective of which religion. Ulster people are brusque, to the point and obstinate (with apologies to readers in Ayrshire).
A northerner can make asking for a cup of tea sound like a threat without realising it. Unsurprisingly the Nordies often grate with their neighbours much like say the Scots with the English and that’s before we get to the historical baggage.
For unionists it’s the ongoing suspicion of nationalist intent. In the Irish Republic the protestant population has crashed by 60% and dwindled from 10% of the population at independence to 4 % now. A civil war and De Valera’s ardently catholic and Gaelic policies didn’t help improve the unionist view. The RoI’s record on its minority doesn’t look great from up North and as they say just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you.
For nationalists there lurks a recurrent niggle that the Republic abandoned them, that the South did live up to the ideals of 1916. Likewise there is a recognition that some aspects of the UK are superior to RoI, the NHS being top of the list and that would be unlikely to survive in its current format.
For both communities there lurks the prospect of perceived second class citizenship. Once the dust has died down how does the North come to terms with no longer running (or not) its own affairs? How will Belfast fare against the all-pervading presence of Dublin a city which has a bigger impact on its hinterland than London does to the UK or Paris to France? And then of course there are the day to day issues of parades, flags, the annually scheduled riots the whole headbanging nonsense.
The Republic is not going to be too worried about Northern sensitivities, they’re too busy making money. There is already a degree of healthy scepticism about the North and that may just get bigger. Southerners look at the North and can’t understand why they don’t want to get richer.
If you want some fun type “protestant work ethic” in to an Irish blog, you’ll think you’re in a Surrey golf club. The British government’s overindulgence of NI petulance will disappear and I don’t think any community in the North is ready for this, nor the Irish for the political pushback.
Politics will change drastically
The politics of a New Ireland would be fundamentally different from the old. For a start off the electorate has just grown by 40% and they are an awkward lot. The Irish STV system encourages communities to vote as blocks for maximum representation. So it’s fairly likely the unionists will all end up voting for a single party which would have about 15% of the seats.
The injection of Northern votes will also propel Sinn Fein past Fianna Fail, at which point the old civil war party divisions look even more irrelevant. What is the point to two conservative pro-business parties when the opposition are now left wing populists?
How the electoral arithmetic will work out is hard to say, but it’s likely that at some point in the future either Sinn Fein could be the government or the successors to the DUP could hold the balance of power. At this point the North will take its pound of flesh.
Politically the Republic will be in for a shock to the system. How this will play out is anyone’s guess. In an ideal world all would get on together and start making themselves better off. But they should be doing that today and they’re not. Suffice to note the British population in Ulster who are about 2% of the UK have been a perennial thorn in the side to the British government.
The Republic will be taking on a 40% thorn and this will change the nature of the state materially. Unity will put together two peoples who have big holes in their common history and in some cases have diametrically opposed views. The Republic inevitably will become a bit more like the North with all its consequences.
I often say the NI conflict is the Scots versus the Irish but they’ve both agreed to blame the English. Maybe in the distant future a British PM and a Taoiseach will be sitting in a bar somewhere consoling each other on how hard it is to handle their Scots.
Alanbrooke is a longstanding poster on PB as well as a Northern Irishman.