When I picked up Mick, I took a closer look at Jim O’Callaghan’s speech on preparing for Irish unity, certainly our lock-up covenant of choice – that is, I actually read it. Worth reading about merit and not cynical as one of the first recordings in an outsider’s bold campaign for the leadership of Fianna Fail. This is one of the first to consider what a united Ireland might look like.
He speaks respectfully about unionists and their tradition. He does not entirely reject this nationalist orthodoxy of evil that was division. But he understands.
It is probably fair to say that the partition was not an irrational political decision. I don’t think it was the right decision; but it wasn’t an irrational decision
What is Jim’s offer?
First, he argues that unionists would have more influence in a united Ireland than in the UK.
(1% in the UK and 11% in the UK mean that). Unionism in a new unified Ireland would have a much greater impact on the governance of a new unified Ireland than it does now on the governance of the UK.
This is a mistake. Unionists don’t need large percentages to stay in the UK. They are there by law and are subject to Irish self-determination. Yes, they may want all sorts of other things, more money, no border in the Irish Sea, restricted abortion rights and so on, but by and large they have it.
What influence would trade unionists have in a united Ireland? But there is a previous question. What would a trade unionist be anyway? Unionism would cease to exist. It wouldn’t be the equivalent of nationalism today. There would be no going back to the UK for Northern Ireland. Nationalists to match Danny Morrison need only win once; If they lose, they can try, try, and try again, starting seven years after the first fails. And after that … Neverendums?
Jim doesn’t even bother to argue Retention of the Northern Ireland Assembly. His is a unified Irish state. An illusion is broken. In 1998 the idea circulated that the gathering should survive a shift in sovereignty to reassure unionists. A closer look today reveals very real problems with it. If education and health should continue to evolve, why should northern TDs vote on southern health and education? Ireland would have its own West Lothian problem. What authority would the united Irish parliament in the north wield over policies closest to people’s lives? And that’s just to start with. Jim can be forgiven here for not dealing with the issues of one or two education and health systems.
To be fair, there is alternating current in its uniform stateA couple of pleasant, flashy suggestions from the north
… in a new constitution I. A certain number of cabinet positions would be filled by representatives of trade union parties.
A cabinet minister and maybe a junior minister. OK. Jim notes D’Hondt’s operation to appoint NI executive ministers without committing to a single state.
But here are the Zingers ..
..the new constitution could also give the MPs a bigger role
Head of Government (Deputy First Minister or Tánaiste). There would be
Merit in demanding that both (taioseach and taniaste) be filled by popular vote
There’s a hint here The deputy prime minister could be a (former) trade unionist. Both top jobs could be chosen directly. This would be a major change in parliamentary government. But I can’t see how it would benefit former trade unionists with 11% of the national vote.
For a new unified Ireland it would be advantageous to maintain a bicameral system with one house in Dublin and the other in Stormont. One could be an Irish Assembly / Dáil Éireann and the other an Irish Senate / Seanad Éireann. The latter would obviously have to be given more real and more effective powers than those currently exercised by the House of Lords or the current Seanad Éireann and would have to be constituted quite differently from today’s colleagues. The Irish Senate could allow greater representation for those of the unionized tradition.
Shades of Senator WB Yeats declared southern trade unionists “no small matter” in 1922.
Jim allows quite a lot of unionism Maintain British citizenship and British / Unionist culture. Big thing . Given the existing guarantees of Irish citizenship across the UK, this is the least that could be offered. In order to qualify, they are advised to apply for UK passports before relocating the unit. Why should UK passports be restricted to those born in the former Northern Ireland? What kind of unit would deny all Irish who automatically qualify for entry into the UK in the common travel area? In cultural matters, would anyone seriously consider banning the twelfth (though it would sound more than a bit hollow like the unit?) Would BBC NI survive as a production presence and be paid for by the royalty? No chance, I would say.
The big question of Affordability is for another day. But Jim calmly assumes that the survival of the UK subsidy will run out over time. This is conceivable, although UK taxpayers would put pressure on it.
Jim ducks completely annoying questions of Brexit. He could be right that the EU would accept a united Ireland. But what would become of the “best of both worlds” and access to the UK internal market? The Irish Sea border would be permanent and international, and the North would not vote on it every four or eight years.
Unsurprisingly, other essential republic policies are retained: Neutrality for national defense and equality for the Irish language.
To conclude. While the respectful tone to trade unionists sounds true, the substance of a united Ireland has little for those who would prefer to stay in Britain. It is indeed a strong logic to create a unitary Irish state with a more inclusive character. but not one that gives ex-unionists a significant share of power.
Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, publisher Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commission editor of BBC Radio 4; Political and Parliamentary Program Editor, BBC Westminster; former London editor of the Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London