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I have never sent a letter to the editor of the hardline unionist Belfast Newsletter before, but decided to give it a try this time around. I slightly re-drafted, reframed, and extended it to 800 words for a Northern readership and never expected it too be published.  But here it is, published in full:

If unionists want to influence whatever shape a united Ireland might take, they need to get an agreement on it prior to any vote

A letter from Frank Schnittger:
A united Ireland is not only dependent on a majority in the north voting for it in a poll: it also requires a majority in the south to vote for it in a constitutional referendum to amend the Irish constitution

The commentator Fintan O'Toole in The Irish Times writes that many people are living under the delusion that a united Ireland wouldn't require considerable compromises on the part of voters in the south if it were to become a reality (`Believers in a united Ireland without trade-offs are as bad as Brexiteers,' Irish Times, Opinion & Analysis, December 18).

However, he omits one crucial detail in his discussion. A united Ireland is not only dependent on a majority in the north voting for it in a poll called at the whim of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland: it also requires a majority in the south to vote for it in a constitutional referendum to amend the Irish Constitution to accommodate the north and its various communities.

Not only are the terms of that constitutional amendment as yet unclear, but a vote in favour is dependent on a majority in the south being broadly supportive of the details contained therein. Unlike the UK, Ireland does not vote on broad principles like Brexit, referendums instead insert very precise legal changes into the constitution, the implications of which have been spelled out in advance by an independent referendum commission.

Such a constitutional referendum can only be called after the north has voted for unification, and its precise form will be determined by the debate that has taken place in Northern Ireland prior to their vote. People in the south may well decide that the costs of reunification, the risks of violence, and the compromises contained in any re-unification proposal are simply not worth it.

If, as I suspect, an ultra-English nationalist UK government in economic difficulties decides one day to off-load the costs and bother of Northern Ireland on to Ireland, Ireland is under no obligation to accept them. I suspect some very detailed negotiations between the two governments would have to take place first, setting out how the costs and risks of the transition of sovereignty are to be borne.

No doubt the UK government would take the views of unionists and loyalists into account. However, an Irish government which doesn't take into account the views of Irish voters risks losing the referendum. There is no obligation on Irish voters to accept compromises they don't like.

Indeed, so long as there isn't a discussion with active unionist participation, any speculation on the exact form of reunification is so much hot air. Why would Ireland concede (say) on membership of the Commonwealth, if it turns out that unionists couldn't care less about that, or worse, would bank that concession and then ask for more.

So we are stuck with a binary choice for the foreseeable future -- a united Ireland or the status quo. Unionists have no incentive to discuss options for a united Ireland which might only make soft unionists or the unaligned more likely to vote for it. They must retain the bogeyman of a Catholic nationalist takeover to maximise their own vote.

Of course, if there ever were a vote for a united Ireland under the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement) unionists would suddenly be all over it demanding cross community support for any proposals, and every concession they could think of to make it less likely the south would vote for re-unification -- including copious threats of widespread violence.

The rational response to all of this would be to insist that re-unification will take place, if at all, on whatever basis is discussed and agreed prior to the Northern poll. If unionists insist on the Catholic takeover myth and lose, that is what they should get -- a unitary Irish state. If they negotiate and agree to some kind of federal arrangement prior to the vote, that should be honoured.

But as usual unionists may try to have it both ways: claim that it's all about a Catholic nationalist takeover, and then demand the right of veto over any post-unification legislative proposals -- much like their current position on the Protocol, which, despite the demands for a unionist veto, provides only for a majority Assembly vote on its continuance.

The Belfast (GFA) places no restrictions on what a united Ireland would look like, and neither should Ireland, unless by agreement with unionist parties prior to the vote. The principles of parity of esteem are already established in the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, which has binding force within the Irish Constitution.

So if unionists want to influence whatever shape a united Ireland might take, they had better secure an agreement on that prior to any vote. There is no point complaining about a Catholic nationalist takeover if that is the basis you campaigned on and lost. Democracy can be hard.



Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Fri Dec 31st, 2021 at 11:40:27 AM EST
The Belfast editor willing to take a risk by publishing your letter with sole benefit to attract new readers?

"Please subscribe to our newsletter for unlimited access to the best Northern Ireland and UK news ..."

by Oui on Fri Dec 31st, 2021 at 12:28:11 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I suspect my letter will attract quite a bit of response, and every editor is happy with controversy that increases readership and attention.

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Fri Dec 31st, 2021 at 12:42:39 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I was searching for response... as these would be most interesting ... does one need a subscription?
by Oui on Fri Dec 31st, 2021 at 01:23:38 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Won't happen for a few days. I think there is a small number of free articles before you need a subscription. I don't have one atm.

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Fri Dec 31st, 2021 at 01:30:06 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Sorry for being a dumb American, but what in this letter might be read as controversial by a unionist?
by asdf on Fri Dec 31st, 2021 at 04:50:23 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Hardline unionists regard any discussion of a united Ireland as "parlaying with the enemy" on his terms. "Ulster says NO!" is the stock response to any discussion, however nuanced.

The hint in my letter that a southern referendum vote for unity is not a done deal will be welcomed by some, and some may perhaps take that as a point of departure for their response, but any suggestion England might abandon them is to be shunned. It would be like admitting God isn't a Protestant...

Hence the desperate clinging onto Boris Johnson despite all the evidence he will betray them any moment it suits his agenda.

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Fri Dec 31st, 2021 at 05:36:41 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Since trying to be more English than the English has recently backfired, will the new unionist strategy be to incessantly poison the unification well? How would nationalists circumvent this? Is it enough now that the de-facto economic union is happening?

Schengen is toast!
by epochepoque on Fri Dec 31st, 2021 at 07:03:23 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Unionists have been poisoning the re-unification well since the founding of N. Ireland in 1921-2.  What has changed in recent times is a demographic shift to an emergent Roman Catholic majority (close to but not quite the same as the nationalist vote) and the rise of English and Scottish nationalism.

Hence the suggestion in my letter that the defining moment in a move to a united Ireland could be a decision by an ultra-English government in economic difficulty to try and cut the current €12 Billion p.a. subvention to N. Ireland from central exchequer funds, or better still, to transfer that burden onto Ireland.

It will take time for any de-facto economic union to play out. After all N. Ireland had full access t the Irish ad EU markets when it was an EU member. What has changed is that British firms have lost that full access, and some may choose to relocate part of their operations to N. Ireland to retain their market share in the EU.

Again, I would expect that to be a long-term, incremental trend, and I wouldn't underestimate the ability of unionist parties to ignore the economic interests of their members even as they became increasingly tied to EU market access. It could be a bit like the end of Apartheid in South Africa, which ended when Afrikaner capital realised it couldn't grow without access to world markets.


Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Fri Dec 31st, 2021 at 11:55:08 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I wouldn't count on the Tories to dump NI like that. A few iterations later they will maybe quite like to keep their 'EU beachhead'.

Schengen is toast!
by epochepoque on Sat Jan 1st, 2022 at 07:03:51 PM EST
[ Parent ]

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