The issue of re-uniting Ireland is one that has had a constant presence since Partition was enacted in 1922. The one country where this issue has been most prevalent outside of Ireland is in the United States.
Ireland and the U.S have a unique connection; there are currently 42 million Americans who claim Irish heritage and millions more recent immigrants into the country. As a result the Irish American community has an interest into Irish affairs and many have their own Irish ideology and interest in politics and public affairs.
The U.S.A has played a vital role in the recent history of Ireland being a leading player in the negotiation of the Peace Process in the north and supporting and ensuring that it is upheld ever since and also its continued investment in peace and development on the island.
The strive for a United Ireland by nationalists and republicans on the island of Ireland has also been supported over decades by many in the U.S and many motions have been passed in Congress supporting a United Ireland including one by the California Democratic Party passed in 2009.
It is vital therefore that this issue remains prevalent in the US in order to ensure that these views of the Irish American people are represented by their public representatives and that the discussion remains open.
So what exactly are the reasons a re-united Ireland should come about? It is essential first and foremost that the wider American people are educated on these reasons so that they can understand why this may be an issue relevant to many people in their vast country. The first point I feel that is essential to make with regards a re-united Ireland is the fact that the majority of mainstream republicans do not strive for a mere joining up with the current status quo in the south a common misconception, they strive for a new Ireland with new structures and institutions based on the equality and input of all its citizens.
The administrations in both regions on the island have consistently failed over decades to provide stable and effective governance for its people, the need for change is staggeringly apparent and the current financial crisis has only served to highlight the growing need for new structures to be put in place to ensure that Irish people benefit from sound and stable legislative policies.
What better way to rectify this than to start with a clean slate in which all the residents of the island have a say in its structure rather than attempting to mend broken institutions and failed policies?
The status quo is unacceptable. In the north we currently have an undemocratic governing body whose powers are still restricted as a result of British government policy. There is no way to address this lack of democracy as there simply is no other option within the current state of affairs. In a new Ireland democracy will be restored and an effective political system instated.
Direct rule from Britain for the north is no alternative; Britain has demonstrated for centuries that it is unable to govern the needs of Irish society. From famine relief to the sub standard infrastructure that current politicians are attempting to rectify it is clear that the British administration cannot comprehend the needs of the small rural society. A return to this would be catastrophic for the growth of the region.
Another formidable argument against partition is that fact that it was forced on the Irish people without their views being taken into account forcing a bloody civil war as a result. This was an undemocratic, foolish and oppressive decision on the part of negotiators and one that many Irish people have refused to accept as legitimate on this basis. It’s time everyone had their voices heard and the issue left in the hands of the Irish people themselves.
Unionists sought the maintenance of British rule with the threat of war in order to protect their own interests- their privileged status in society. They felt that this privilege was sure to disappear in a united Ireland and they resisted equality at all costs. The rights of the Irish nation to self determination has been held hostage since 1922 by a power hungry minority aimed at maintaining their own selfish privileges rather than legitimately becoming a minority in a society based on equality and rights.
This privilege has been facilitated and encouraged by countless British administrations a ruthless colonial force who ravaged the nation and its people for centuries and who ensure Protestantism is a basis for undue privilege. In the 21st century should this be accepted?
The state of Northern Ireland under British rule was the only way that Protestant unionists could guarantee the superior position that they had been granted since plantation. However prior to this realization Unionists had begun the pursuit of an Independent state of Northern Ireland. This leads to the question how strong are the links with Britain? Or are they merely an act of self preservation to ensure the position of one sector of society? What are these so called links to Britain? The British culture that many in the north claim to belong to is nonexistent, these people in fact have their own distinctive culture often a variation of the wider Irish culture. British people have no marching tradition, do not celebrate the 12th July, do not partake in Ulster Scots dancing or any of the other cultural traits some people associate with. Therefore the imagined threat to this culture outside a British jurisdiction is irrelevant and it could assimilate without difficulty into a new political landscape.
We are closer to a united Ireland now than we have ever been and this has proved a success with the DOE, DHSS, tourist’s boards and also the police among others benefiting highly from this increased co-operation.
A clear benefit of re-uniting Ireland would be that the need for planned interaction would subside and the duplications of structures and services would be irradiated this would be more beneficial economically and would save immense time and resources.
British influence in Ireland has been overwhelmingly negative. The brutal colonial force that Britain asserted over hundreds of years on the people of Ireland has had a lasting impact and these policies have caused devastating conflict on its shores. We now have the opportunity to break free from this legacy and create a country where each individual stands on an equal footing sure that they and their input are safeguarded within society. Every Irish person can then experience inclusion and diversity can be a valued asset and safeguard of democracy rather than a dividing force.
However it may be useful to note that Britain has no interest in holding Ireland or any part of it, the sole reason that Britain ever concerned itself with Ireland is because they feared that the powerful Catholic nations of Europe would use Ireland as a base for attacking Britain and so asserted its rule on the Irish people to ensure its security within Europe. With this threat irradicated Britain and especially British people do not feel connected to people in the north and as I have found do not want to be either. The only time Britain claims the north as her own is when talking politics or on the front cover of a passport. Therefore it appears that the British themselves were pushed by Unionists into remaining in Ireland even though it was not preferential to do so but the fact that they owed a sense of loyalty to the people they had placed there ensured the enactment of Partition.
The ease with which they handed over the 26 counties enforces this view- if Britain, one of the most powerful countries in the world, had wanted Ireland it would not have handed it back so easily. The Falklands war is a prime example.
In addition to this the potential for foreign investment in the north is being strangled by the retainment of taxing powers in Westminster. In the north a 24% rate of corporation tax is forced upon it, a clear barrier to foreign investment however if Irish people could assert their own will on their taxes I have no doubt that it would drop to the 12.5% rate that the South has adopted, due to its success and popularity with Irish people, which attracts foreign investors and is beneficial to the economy. A united education system free from the shackles of the expense of duplicating structures and services would provide the educated workforce required to fulfill our highly skilled industry.
Economics is one common argument against uniting Ireland. The notion that we are dependent on Britain needs challenged as The British Treasury either do not give figures or give estimates. There is no accurate data and this argument is therefore based on guesswork and not concrete facts.
The British Treasury do not give exact figures in terms of money generated here, taxes, etc. For example in terms of corporation tax many companies like Tesco, asda etc based in the north pay their tax through their HQ in Britain so this would not show up on the north’s tax revenues. Direct Rule has clearly stymied our economy through slow decision making processes on air passenger duty and corporation tax.
All Ireland efficiency savings should also be factored in when talking economics. Already the dup health minister is working closely with his Dublin counterpart in a no of areas and the new cancer unit in Derry will serve people on both sides of border. It does not make sense to duplicate services.
We are closer to a united Ireland now than we have ever been and this has proved a success with such ministers among others benefiting highly from this increased co-operation. A clear benefit of re-uniting Ireland would be that the need for planned interaction would subside and the duplications of structures and services would be irradiated this would be more beneficial economically and would save immense time and resources.
It has been noted that many Protestant Unionists fear revenge may be sought from Catholic nationalists if they partake in such a venture. To counter that I quote Bobby Sands a forward thinking man who has views that were well ahead of his time, he said that ‘Our revenge will be the laughter of our children’ this statement sets out clearly the aims of nationalist/republicans- a prosperous society based on equality and rights where children no longer live in fear.
The United States has no doubt got a role to play in building this bright future that I describe. The most important role that the United States can play in this debate is as a facilitator of discussion. Nothing will ever be achieved by maintaining the status quo and refraining from discussion. The topic must be promoted and discussed both by politicians north, south and worldwide but also in communities in people’s homes and in educational facilities.
The United States can use its position to promote this discussion in the British and Irish Governments, the northern executive and within society worldwide. The United States holds the influence required to maintain this discussion and have the difficult questions asked and answered, the pro’s and con’s debated and negotiations held. Just as it did throughout the peace process the United States can provide support and encouragement to politicians and institutions and ensure that everyone’s voice is heard.
We have the chance now in a time of peace to further the growth and prosperity of the small island of Ireland free from the baggage of its past, let us hear the laughter of its children as they grow up free from fear and discrimination together as unified but diverse people in a stable and democratic country. As with the Peace process the United States of America can play a key role in this, I urge you to further this debate.
(Leanne Peacock is a young Sinn Fein member who interned in Washington this summer as part of the Washington Ireland Program. The views expressed are those of the author.)