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Brexit and a United Ireland.

by Frank Schnittger Tue Jul 19th, 2016 at 02:44:45 PM EST

The 1998 Good Friday Agreement is an international Treaty between the UK and the Republic of Ireland lodged with the United Nations.  It was incorporated into the Irish Constitution by a referendum which was carried by a 94% yes vote.  It was also approved by a 71% majority vote in a referendum in Northern Ireland and sets up a number of internal Northern Ireland, North South, and British Irish institutions.

The Good Friday agreement was predicated on both Ireland and the United Kingdom being members of the European Union and the EU has played an active role in facilitating the peace process by supporting peace and reconciliation in the border regions. Peace IV has just been approved and has earmarked some €269m to this end. Any re-emergence of a "hard border" with customs and immigration controls will jeopardise the much improved community relations within Northern Ireland which are dependent, in part, on much closer North-south integration, at least as far as the Nationalist community is concerned.


The Good Friday Agreement may therefore have to be renegotiated during the Brexit negotiations, and any changes to the agreement required by Brexit or otherwise proposed can only be ratified by the Republic of Ireland in a new referendum. Ireland may have no option but to veto any post Brexit agreement between the UK and the EU if it cannot be ratified by referendum as otherwise any changes would be in breach of the Irish Constitution. Approval of any Brexit agreement may therefore be in the hands of the Irish people rather than something which can simply be negotiated with the Irish Government in some kind of back room deal.

It is doubtful that any Irish government could win a referendum on the future status of Northern Ireland which did not provide for a united Ireland within the EU at some point in the future - always subject to such a proposal also being approved by majority vote in Northern Ireland, as also provided for in the Good Friday Agreement.  This means that a new referendum on a United Ireland could become an intrinsic part of the Brexit negotiations.  Opinion polls in Northern Ireland have always shown significant majorities for remaining in the United Kingdom. Why should a refereendum held post Brexit be any different?

The most important factor influencing a change of sentiment would be if Scotland were to become independent. The vast majority of the "planters", or protestant settlers, who were settled in Northern Ireland following the defeat of the Irish chieftans there by Crown forces came from Scotland, not England or Wales.  An independent Scotland would greatly reduce Northern Irish protestant family and historic ties with the rest of the UK.

Much has been made of more recent demographic changes in Northern Ireland whereby the Roman Catholic Nationalist population is growing much more rapidly than the protestant Unionist one.  These changes have yet to produce significant changes in voting patterns in Northern Ireland however, and if anything has resulted in a larger non-aligned or dis-engaged adult population who do not necessarily wish to be defined by either the Catholic Nationalist nor the Protestant Unionist political identities.

But other things have changed.  For instance the Pro-Brexit side led by the Democratic Unionist party was soundly defeated (56 - 44) in the UK Brexit referendum vote. This despite the fact that many nationalists may have had mixed feeling about the Brexit vote, knowing, on the one hand, that Brexit could re-introduce hated border controls, but on the other, that a Brexit vote might well precipitate a United Ireland referendum much sooner than if Britain remained within the EU.  These mixed feelings may therefore explain the much lower turn-out in the Brexit referendum in nationalist areas.

But many other things have changed too.  The Republic of Ireland has changed from being a much poorer agrarian state than Northern Ireland in the early 20th. Century, to being a much richer industrialised and post industrial state in the early 21st. Century. Clearly political independence has worked for the south much better than being an outlying de-industrialising region of a UK economy increasingly centralised around the financial services industry in London.

Furthermore, the south has moved away from being a theocratic Roman Catholic based polity which dominated a diminishing protestant minority to being a more liberal, diverse, secular and tolerant society where laws are made by popular mandate rather than by religious dogma.  Far from feeling threatened by Roman Catholic domination, many socially conservative Protestants might wish to make common cause with the Catholic Church in support of more conservative social values.

There remains, however, one barrier to a possible united Ireland: The estimated £11 Billion net cost of maintaining the Northern Ireland state to the British Exchequer. It will be very difficult for the relatively small southern Irish economy to absorb that cost and very difficult for Northern Ireland unionists to believe that it could credibly do so.  There might thus well be a widespread conviction, North and south, that whatever their personal political preferences, a United Ireland would simply not be financially viable and would result in a £11 Billion drop in living standards both North and South, at least in the short term.

However this is where the UK's strategic interest comes into the equation. Having baulked at the UK's net £10 Billion contribution to the EU for which it gets access to the Single Market, why should it continue to subsidise Northern Ireland to the tune of £11 Billion, for which it gets nothing but trouble in return? Teresa May may have stressed her allegiance to the Conservative and Unionist Party, but would her leadership survive a failure of the Brexit negotiations? Significantly she has visited Scotland, but not Northern Ireland in the immediate aftermath of her election.

The stage is therefor set for a grand bargain on Northern Ireland as part of the Brexit and post Brexit negotiations. A new referendum, North and south, would be held on the significant modification of the Good Friday Agreement required by the exit of the UK from the EU in any case. But in this new agreement, provision will be made for a much more precise definition of what entering a united Ireland would mean. If voters in Northern Ireland are offered a simple in-out choice, they will naturally take the safer status quo option. A United Ireland, so vaguely defined, simply feels like a takeover of the North by the south, and would, provoke fears of renewed civil unrest, if not outright civil war desired by nobody.

So the new Good Friday Agreement, agreed as part of the Brexit negotiations would provide for a much more nuanced choice:  Continued Union with the UK, but with a gradually diminishing level of subsidy by the British exchequer, or a United Ireland, with a similar level of subsidy by the UK for a prolonged transitional period - say 10 years - but also a very gradual transition from current Northern Ireland political structures towards more integrated all Ireland ones, continued devolution of some powers to Northern Ireland (and perhaps other regions within Ireland, and continued membership of the EU and the guarantees on religious freedom and human rights contained in the Charter of fundamental rights of the European Union - yes, that same Charter which Teresa May has said she wants to abrogate in the UK.

Most voters, when faced with a choice between a concrete status quo and an unknown, doubtful and aspirational abstract choice will always choose the former, whatever their dissatisfaction with the status quo.  However the United Ireland choice becomes more attractive if it seen as closer to the status quo: continued membership of the EU, roughly equivalent levels of financial subsidy, continued guarantees on human rights, and only gradual, measured and known changes to political structures which are seen as pretty dysfunctional anyway.

Ah but what when the British Exchequer subsidies run out, I hear you say?  Well firstly, there is no guarantee that this will not happen regardless of what choice voters make. If the UK economy declines post Brexit, there may well be extreme pressures on UK public finances and political pressures to focus resources on declining regions of England and Wales which actually return Conservative or Labour MPs who might become part of a Government majority.

Secondly, there is no reason why an Irish government which has made a relative success of developing the Irish economy cannot make a greater success of developing the Northern Ireland economy, thus reducing the need for external subsidies. Irish Governmental policies have always been more proactive about developing the economy than free market ideologists in London centric administrations. Irish Diplomats have long commented on how British Government eyes tend to glaze over at any mention of Northern Ireland. At least the Irish government would have an incentive and would actively want to develop the Northern Ireland economy: The composition of future Irish governments would likely have a large Northern Ireland dimension in order to achieve a parliamentary majority.

Thirdly, the reduction in duplication of administrative overheads and increase in size of the domestic economy should also produce some administrative efficiencies and economies of scale, helping to reduce the overall public sector deficit in Ireland, North and South.

Fourthly, it is to be hoped that the EU, through re-energised social, regional, structural and cohesion programmes will make an ever greater contribution to the development of disadvantaged regions, partly because of the loss of the British neo-liberal economic influence within the EU, and perhaps as a formal part of the new Good Friday Agreement, negotiated as part of the Brexit agreement. That would provide greater certainty for all, and thus a greater likelihood of a positive outcome to any referendum.

There is a possible flaw in this argument however: It assumes that future decisions about Northern Ireland will be driven largely by economics - by a rational evaluation of the relative economic uncertainties and opportunities offered by a United Ireland rather than by a diminishing status quo. Politics isn't always rational, and more often it is driven by base anxieties and fears. The risk of a return to large scale violence will be a fear driving the decision making by many people.  Best leave well alone might well be the reflex response.

Politics is also often driven by a sense of identity, one developed over many generations rather than on considerations of immediate or potential advantage. Do Northern Unionists feel so much part of a UK (possibly without Scotland) that it would override all other considerations?  For some, that will undoubtedly be the case. Better to stick with your own rather than give nationalists something to crow about... But will such considerations still be the dominant motivation of the majority?

If there is one trend apparent in Northern Ireland, it is that an increasing number of people do not want to be painted in either Nationalist or Unionist colours, and will vote pragmatically for what seems like the prospect of a more prosperous future. It is up to Irish leaders, North and south, to give them a real prospect of such an option. Merely beating a tribal drum doesn't cut it anymore.

People in the south will also have to make a genuine effort to build more relationships with the North, and particularly with Northern Unionists. Many years of separation, sectarianism and the Troubles have created quite a social distance between both populations. Northern Unionists may be feeling increasingly isolated with respect to British politics (especially if Scotland becomes Independent), but that does not mean that they feel any closer to their southern neighbours.

There are few enough popular institutions which build such common feeling - the Irish Rugby Football Union being one - so if any United Ireland proposal is going to achieve majority support AND actually work well in practice, there is going to have to be a far greater civil society effort, North and south, to build those links which can bind communities together. A united Ireland can be facilitated by diplomacy, politics and economics, but only people working to build links across disparate communities can make it real.  That is the real challenge which Brexit and its aftermath pose to all of us.

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Can the Republic actually afford the North?  Scotland certainly couldn't (assuming a Uni-Kirk or Presby-Union) even if it kept the oil after independence.  And Germany had to wreck the EU to Hoover up the funds necessary to keep itself afloat while reintegrating the East.
by rifek on Wed Jul 20th, 2016 at 02:23:35 AM EST
Depends? The current EU rules are nuts on most particulars. If they don't change soon we'll have bigger problems than trying to integrate one economic region into the other.
And we really know very little about how the terms of trade for an independent Scotland or even a united Ireland will turn out.
Finally there wasn't a need to wreck the EU to integrate Eastern Germany. Unless you insist on liquidating it's economy.
by generic on Wed Jul 20th, 2016 at 08:35:47 AM EST
[ Parent ]
OK, I'll restate it: The Schengen Convention and Maastricht Treaty provided little planning beyond Germany's immediate need to move labour, capital, and product around beyond its own borders, at will, and for its own benefit, and so the EU has been on a collision course with itself for decades.
by rifek on Sat Jul 23rd, 2016 at 12:34:45 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Perhaps it's because Ireland has benefited so much from EU membership, but I simply don't get the obsession with Germany as the sole beneficiary of the EU.  The Euro, yes, has been driven primarily by Germany's needs, although less so since Draghi took charge of the ECB. Yes, Germany's obsession with trade and fiscal surpluses has been damaging to other members, but would it have been any different without the EU?  

I think we have to avoid the "English disease" of blaming everything - even the underfunding of the NHS - on the EU. Germany is outvoted on every single organ of the EU, so what's to prevent other countries moving the EU in a different direction.  It seems to me the greater problem is the ideological capture of national elites by neo-liberalism and the consequent hegemony of centre right parties committed to "market-led" policies which naturally favour Germany.

It may suit national elites to use Germany as a bogeyman just as Britain used the EU, but at the end of the day they are responsible for the policies they pursue both nationally and within the EU. So far the ECB seems to be the only body which actually votes against the German point of view on the rare occasion.  Everyone else (bar the UK - which wanted even more neo-liberal policies) is moving in lock step with Germany.

Blame your own elites.

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Sat Jul 23rd, 2016 at 10:26:09 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm not saying Germany is the sole beneficiary.  I'm saying it led the parade that created the structure now in place.  Germany frankly was in serious need of a greatly expanded "internal" market, so it needed to 1) take down barriers against movement of labor, capital, and goods, and 2) a single currency.  Details like what borderless sovereigns were supposed to look like, let alone wonkier issues like how budgets were supposed to work without revenue sharing (without which a dual sovereign such as the US would simply fly apart) or exactly what could and could not be done with a pseudo-sovereign currency, were ignored in the rush to put the basic instruments in place.  Once that happened, Germany could sell product across the continent, and it could do so at a discount courtesy the currency devaluation it obtained on switching to the euro (a currency devaluation it didn't have to book on its own ledgers).  Now all those ignored chickens are coming home to roost, but Germany (at least on some level) knows it has already harvested about all it can, so how long is it really going to fight to keep things together?  And if Germany stops caring, there isn't enough care left to keep the EU together.
by rifek on Tue Aug 2nd, 2016 at 02:32:28 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Thanks for this excellent account.

How likely is for a full border with checkpoints and such to become a reality between the Republic and NI? If NI remains in the UK, such a border is indispensable to meet the aspirations of those who voted "exit".

You might find me At The Edge Of Time.

by Luis de Sousa (luis[dot]a[dot]de[dot]sousa[at]gmail[dot]com) on Wed Jul 20th, 2016 at 07:40:03 AM EST
It's 2016. I'm not sure "how likely" is a sensible question to ask any more!
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Wed Jul 20th, 2016 at 09:01:40 AM EST
[ Parent ]
That's what the up-coming battle is all about. A majority in N. I. voted against Brexit and thus any possibility of a hard border. The realists will argue that the UK will negotiate a deal which will allow them to retain access to the single market and thus avoid the need for customs controls, but any controls on immigration ceded to the UK would require immigration control at the border unless the UK agreed to move that control to airports and shipping ports themselves - effectively moving the border into the Irish sea - something the Unionists might be very nervous about as it effectively creates an all-Ireland entity for the purposes of immigration at least.

I also remain unconvinced that the "realists" will eventually win out.  UK expectations of what they can negotiate seem to me entirely unrealistic, and any agreement will have to be approved by the EU Council where many members will be looking nervously over their shoulders at nationalist and secessionist forces within their own borders.  The need to ensure the EU survives may trump the needs of German car exporters et al...

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Sat Jul 23rd, 2016 at 10:37:04 AM EST
[ Parent ]
unless the UK agreed to move that control to airports and shipping ports themselves - effectively moving the border into the Irish sea

I suspect that this might the easiest and cheapest solution. Even tho' it can easily be seen as a half way house to reunification, I suspect that London will apply a little pressure for it to be accepted.

Any other "solution" involves re-winding to a pre-settlement era that few sane people would desire

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Sat Jul 23rd, 2016 at 11:27:24 AM EST
[ Parent ]
A referendum on United Ireland
Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams has repeated his call for a referendum on a united Ireland in light of the Brexit fallout, saying the UK's controversial vote means there is a "timeframe there" to make a decision on the border within four years, writes Fiachra Ó Cionnaith, political reporter.

The opposition TD made the claim after both Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said they believe a border vote is now a prospect due to the decision by Britain to leave the EU.

---<snip>

While saying the issue was still a number of years away, the Fianna Fáil leader said the Brexit vote - and crucially the fact Northern Ireland voted to remain in the EU - means the issue needs to be discussed, with practical matters such as merging two different health and taxation systems prioritised.

On Monday Taoiseach Enda Kenny went further, saying any post-Brexit talks should include a discussion on a united Ireland.

"The discussions and negotiations that take place over the next period should take into account the possibility, however far out it might be, that the clause in the Good Friday Agreement might be triggered.

"In the same way as East Germany was dealt with when the wall came down, and was able to be absorbed into West Germany and not have to go through a torturous and long process of applying for membership of the European Union," Mr Kenny said.

The Taoiseach's comments have been seen as an attempt to force the hand of leading EU nations such as Germany to give Ireland a special post-Brexit deal which would allow Ireland to continue our common travel area with Britain and to ensure there is no hard border with Northern Ireland - issues which appeared to be ruled out by German chancellor Angela Merkel in a Berlin meeting last week.

Needless to say Northern Unionists beg to differ...

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Wed Jul 20th, 2016 at 10:05:51 AM EST
Who knows? tbh Ireland is barely a footnote at the bottom of a long list of urgent issues the Tories have to attend to.

they'll happily throw other people's money at problems that win them votes and party political bragging rights, eg kicking Labour over Trident. But not hte NHS cos they don't care about that. And they care a heckuva lot more about Scotland than they do about N Ireland, but they don't really care as much about Scotland as people think they do. The union is a nice to have, but so long as they have the City they know they can ride out anything.

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Wed Jul 20th, 2016 at 07:24:35 PM EST
Yes but the City is the one thing they might lose if the negotiations don't go their way...

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Thu Jul 21st, 2016 at 01:10:09 PM EST
[ Parent ]
But where would the City go?
by rifek on Sat Jul 23rd, 2016 at 12:37:24 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Frankfurt

keep to the Fen Causeway
by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Sat Jul 23rd, 2016 at 08:04:15 AM EST
[ Parent ]
And Paris and Dublin and every other major city that wants part of the action...

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Sat Jul 23rd, 2016 at 10:14:48 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Hollande on Brexit: `I recognise there is a special situation for Ireland' | Irish Examiner

The French president, in a brief but crucial visit to Dublin, also bolstered Ireland's position in backing consideration of our special status in any negotiations on Brexit.

The politics of terrorism and Brexit took centre stage during a meeting with Taoiseach Enda Kenny at Government Buildings yesterday. This was the first bilateral visit by a French head of state here in almost three decades, since president Francois Mitterrand visited in 1988.

While security and trade formed part of the talks, all eyes here were on what the president's response was to Ireland's attempt to carve out a unique position in the Brexit talks.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny has argued Britain's exit from the EU cannot result in a "hard border" from Dundalk to Derry. The Government also wants to sustain the €1bn weekly trade with Britain and the common travel area between the two countries.

Mr Hollande simply backed Mr Kenny's argument that the Brexit talks must consider the historic peace process and, in particular, our border with the North.

Ireland was "very attached" to the Good Friday Agreement, said Mr Hollande.

"France understands this position, because it is very important for peace."

by Bernard on Fri Jul 22nd, 2016 at 01:30:51 PM EST
Border poll and Irish unity

Sir, - We don't want them, we don't need them, we can't afford them, we are somewhat afraid of them, we think that they are culturally different from us, we don't approve of their prejudices and we don't want them to influence events in the Republic. We also feel that Northerners feel the same way about us. So let's forget about a Border poll, and let the British government get the best deal possible for Northern Ireland in the Brexit negotiations. - Yours, etc,

AOIFE LORD,

Tankardstown, Co Meath.

The problem is that N. Ireland is hardly going to be at the top of British Government priorities for the Brexit negotiations, and a gradual emiseration of the N.I. people is a problem for all of the people n this island - if not so much for the English.

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Sat Jul 23rd, 2016 at 11:53:25 AM EST


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