Thursday, 1 July 2010

All Ireland unionism and an important theory

‘Dilettante’ is rapidly becoming one of my favourite blogs.  Written by a ‘half Irish’ Conservative, based in Manchester, it takes a keen interest in constitutional issues and is stout in its defence of the Union.

In his latest post Dilettante explains that ‘what we have we hold’ is not the limit of his unionist philosophy.  He envisages a United Kingdom which could one day readmit the Republic of Ireland.

This aspiration, he notes, is usually filed under the bracket ’neo-unionism’, but it a deeply amenable concept to many secular unionists.

Although it is hardly a likelihood in the near to medium future, why not advocate such a possibility, in order to emphasise that ’Irishness’ is not necessarily the preserve of an independent Irish state?

The Republic of Ireland seceded from the United Kingdom.  I’m proud to be an Irishman from the part of Ireland which did not secede and I’d enthusiastically welcome any popular movement in the south to rejoin.

Of course there are few signs that any such movement could develop, but the notion that the Republic might join the Commonwealth is frequently mooted.  The Queen is likely to visit in the not so distant future.

The importance of the idea, which is as yet a pipe dream, is its desirability in theory.  It helps frame the context of unionism which recognises, and aspires to overarch, all the cultures of the British Isles.


Dilettante said...

That book you link to on Ireland and the Commonwealth is by the Reform Group, one of the microscopic southern unionist organisations I mention in my post. I might do a post on them at some point, but they've not answered my emails.

Thankyou for the high praise!

Anonymous said...

Haughey, when minister in the 70s put forward the idea of Ireland rejoining the commonwealth if the unionists accepted Dublin rule and a 32 county state.
How would that go down these days?
Not a snowballs chance in hell.

st etienne said...

coming from a southern Unionist background I too see the importance of the issue in the context of a wider unionist agenda.

From my perspective one issue I have with it's current portrayal is the tendency to use it as a 'come on' to talk up some kind of gerrymandered all-Ireland state. The polarisation of the two states on this island - irrespective of tribe - isn't reversible and those who disingenuously suggest otherwise aren't living in this reality.

The challenge for the southern unionist cause then is to become established as something more than little-Irelander lip service to northern unionism

IJP said...

Good post.

I don't for one second expect to see the Republic of Ireland rejoin the UK. However, what in the main turned me off Unionism in the first place was the very notion of "ourselves alone" promoted by most so-called "Unionists", and the implicit anti-Irishness of it all.

Furthermore, ludicrous though the notion of the Republic of Ireland rejoining the UK may be, it is really not much more ludicrous than the idea of modern-day Unionists ever embracing a United Irish Republic (based on a "struggle for freedom", in Brian Cowen's words, which they simply don't recognise). That's a challenge worth putting out there.

K D Tennent said...

Its a nice idea on the map, but apart from the political considerations, do we really want another periphery to worry about? Unionism won't become a positive ideology until we take away the possibility for people in Scotland, Wales and NI to blame the English, and people in Northern/Western England to blame London. And now those of us down here in the South East will blame the periphery for all the cuts we have to face. If Unionism wants to get itself back on the map as a positive force, there will have to be a good reason why having any presence at all in Ireland makes the UK more prosperous as a whole. You can't build a nation without shared experience.

Dilettante said...

By that, do you mean the type of 'souther unionism' which amounts to 'we don't need/want Northern Ireland, let it stay British?'

K D Tennent said...

Dilettante - essentially, yes - I've been slapped down on the net before for suggesting that Ulster Protestant culture is entirely foriegn to people in England, but this is essentially the problem to me - and I have more interest than most, as my mother is from NI. I realise being in the UK works for NI (and could now be attractive for the whole of Ireland), but what do the rest of us get out of it? The economy has moved on a lot since the 16-18th centuries, when agricultural expansion into Ireland was desirable.

Chekov said...

I don't quite know what you define as 'Ulster Protestant' culture Kevin, but I'd say that there are more cultural commonalities than there are differences. Throughout the whole of the British Isles. I've got no great interest in Orange marches, but then I've got no interest in Morris Dancing or tossing the caber. Culture is a multifacted thing, but there is a common political allegiance to parliament which still holds the UK together.

Chekov said...

And I'd be interested to know what 'the rest of us' get out of another region, heavily dependent on public spending, remaining within the United Kingdom. that'd be the North East of England.

K D Tennent said...

Culture - surely its more an aquiesance to parliament than an allegiance to it? 25% of adults still don't vote. I see where you are coming from with the Orange issue, but I wonder how many of your countrymen feel that way? English and even Scottish society remains far more secular than NI.

As for the North East, yes I accept that it doesn't pay its way in the UK, and it lags behind in terms of knowledge formation. But it does still have a lot of industry, such as Nissan and parts of the chemical and pharmaceutical industries, which generate foriegn currency, and is quite good at exporting its people, providing squaddies and skilled graduates (as well as cricketers). The area still has greater market potential than NI, however, because its on the mainland and generally better connected to other parts of the UK than NI - Durham is 3 hours out of Kings Cross, while last time I flew London-Aldergrove it took 5-6 hours when you factored in getting to the airport, check in etc. On the EU's map of 'Objective 1 transitional support regions', where GDP per capita is 75% or lower of the EU average, you can clearly see that South Yorkshire, Merseyside and Cornwall are the only parts of England included, while the whole of Ireland is included.

I would agree that there is a long way to go to balance the books in the North East, but this is an easier task than in NI. To go back to my original point, this is precisely why we need to sort out the periphery problems we already have before we introduce another, bigger one, such as the rest of Ireland.

Chekov said...

and is quite good at exporting its people, providing squaddies and skilled graduates (as well as cricketers)

Ditto Northern Ireland (excepting the cricketers). In fact, David Cameron's repeated observation is that he sees Northern Irish people contribute at the highest echelons of business, the military, the entertainment industry and sport, across the UK, yet miss out in terms of politics.

Dilettante said...

K.D. - First, I apologise for misreading you. When you said 'southern unionist' I thought you were referring to Ireland.

I take issue with your 'does Northern Ireland pay its way' argument though. If you're looking to cut out from a country all those bits that cost other bits money, that could be said to amount to an argument for southern secession. A Republic of the South of England, capital city London, not paying for the rest of the country in any way.

Northern Ireland is a part of my country, the United Kingdom. If sections of it are poor, then we help them (or don't, depending on your point of view). The idea that we should only hold Northern Ireland if it turns a profit views it less as an integral part of our country than an exploited imperial possession - surely the very worst accusation the nationalists can throw at us?

shane said...

The Reform Movement was established as a front group for the Dublin and Wicklow Orange Lodge. The former's site used to be even hosted on the latter's.

The prospect of the ROI rejoining the UK is not one I'd be in favour of, and while it's entirely legitimate to campaign for such a union, you would be much better served by a campaign group free from any tribal or sectarian connotations. The RM is too tribally focused. Whining on about the impact of Ne Temere on southern Protestants makes for an interesting historical study but it should be completely irrelevant to a totally secular, culturally encompassing, modern unionist movement.

I'd suggest if you want it be made more realistic the manifesto would include changes to the British state and its constitution to make it palatable. A new flag, new currency design, disestablishment of the Churches and a totally secular state, abolition of the monarchy, a new name for the state, a new written constitution, sizeably disproportionate representation for Ireland in Parliament (given that she would be vastly outnumbered and outvoted), devolution (with power of veto over sensitive areas) and a shake up of the legal system would be essential prerequisites to any union.

st etienne said...

I wondered if any southerner would contribute to this, and unfortunately it's a disingenuous one.

The Reform Movement is a largely non-tribal 'think tank' created largely from academic sources within the traditional elements of southern unionist heritage - Trinity College Dublin for example.

A (The?) leading light of the Reform Movement has always been David Christopher - a man with no loyal order or religious background, not that it matters much but in the context of the above assertions it is an important distinction. Make no mistake, political unionism is at it's heart.

As a side note sharing web hosts is a tenuous irrelevance but well done for the idiotic conspiracy theories.

On the subject of the RM's notes about Protestant persecution in the south - I find the matter is certainly of interest in the subcontext of a general disappearance of public displays of unionism in 26-county Ireland since the dawn of the Irish Free State.

In the absence of any real ideological opposition in RoI politics it's certainly something that must be explored further. On the otherhand people in the mainstream, like Shane, can continue to miss the point completely.

Jim Livesey said...

Leaving aside the ad hominem remarks about the Reform group, Shane's other points about a renegotiated deal for the British Isles still stand. There are serious democratic deficits in the UK and the ROI constitutions and a real debate (rather than a coded claim to superiority based on some notion of "culture") around something like a Federal Republic of the British Isles might get us somewhere. Incorporating unions along the lines of 1707 or 1801 are probably inappropriate models for the current moment

st etienne said...

what 'democratic deficits' are you referring to?

Dilettante said...

A new form of union is an interesting idea, although Shane's probably goes too far. "sizeably disproportionate representation for Ireland in Parliament (given that she would be vastly outnumbered and outvoted)" would be the do-not-cross line for me. In a union, such representation would seriously undermine the concept of equal citizenship. 'Ireland' being outvoted wouldn't be the point - each citizen of the union in Ireland would have their vote, the same as that of every other citizen. The relative strength of Ireland is not the point - the equal power of the individual is.

Sorry, plunged off on a point of philosophical principle.

David C said...

Very interesting discussion - as someone coming from a Southern Unionist background, it's fascinating to hear the views of others on this.

I think it's an equally legitimate aspiration for people in the RoI to aspire to 're-union' with the UK (i.e. equally legitimate with the aspirations of NI nationalists)

- but we live in a world of practical politics and as someone from the Southern minority, it's good that Reform and others are focussing on practical issues like Equal Citizenship Rights (the same right to be British, Irish or both as exists in NI) and on rejoining the Commonwealth.

Rev. Stanley Gamble made a very positive speech at the Orange County Donegal meeting recently covered in the Irish Times -

I know Reform are revamping their web presence at present so I'll write to Dilettante directly seeing as his emails seemingly got lost along the way...

Dilettante said...

I'd love to hear from you, David.

Sam said...

This is a very interesting debate and there have been some indepedent uinionist candidates, such as Stan Gebler Davies whi stood for election during 25th Dáil election of 1987 for Cork South West and John McDonald stood in the Dublin North by-election in 1998. Also, some uionists in the Northern Ireland Assembly are from the Republic, such as Basil McCrea for the UUP and William Hay for the DUP and is the current Speaker of the Northern Ireland Assembly.

Also,religion is becoming less of an influence on whether someone is unionist or not. As there have been a growing number of Catholics in Northern Ireland who are becoming unionists and in the Republic some unionists are Catholic such as Stan Gebler Davies and Connor Cruise O'Brien.