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An Independent Northern Ireland within the EU?

by Frank Schnittger Wed Mar 22nd, 2017 at 10:49:00 PM EST

Dr. Nat O'Connor (School of CPSP, Ulster University) has an interesting piece up on the Progressive Economy website on the options for Northern Ireland if it doesn't want to go the full Brexit with the leavers in Westminster. In particular he asks: Could Northern Ireland be an independent member of the EU, or have a "special status" within it? It is well worth a read in full and discusses the options for Northern Ireland under six headings:

    Being inside the European Customs Union
    Being inside the European Single Market
    Holding EU Citizenship Rights
    Participating in EU Programmes (e.g. CAP, Erasmus)
    Common EU Security and Defence
    The "European Project"

My response is included below the fold...

Thanks, Nat, for this erudite and well considered contribution to the debate.  I have one nit pick and a few major reservations.  First the nit-pick: You say "And the British Social Attitudes survey finds that 29% of people identify as "Northern Irish" when forced to prioritise one identity, as opposed to 48% "British" and 28% "Irish"." If respondents were forced to prioritise one identity, how could the sum of choices total 105%?

My major reservations:

Firstly, your article is necessarily very N. Ireland centric with only cursory references to the attitudes that the London, Dublin, Madrid or the rest of the EU might strike in a response to N. I. choosing one of the options cited.  That is understandable for an initial exploration - N. Ireland must first decide what it wants.  Given the fractured nature of the polity, Assembly and Executive the first great difficultly is arriving at a consensus choice of which option to pursue.  Is there any political mechanism or leadership or combination of parties capable of generating a widely acceptable consensus choice in the foreseeable future?

Secondly, as all options come with costs, some sort of cost/benefit analysis must be presented for each in order for an informed debate to take place.  This necessarily requires taking an informed view of what attitudes London, Dublin, Madrid and Brussels will take to the various options being considered. For example, what happens to the 5.2 - 9.2 Billion British exchequer subvention?  Will Dublin/EU agree to bear some or all of that cost? Why would they?  What are they getting in return?

Thirdly, for all the talk about economics, the EU is ultimately about politics, and above all about maintaining some sort of peace and cohesion on the European mainland in particular. The EU27 needs more small, divided, stricken member states like it needs a hole in the head. The emphasis now, for the EU, has to be on its own survival as a cohesive entity in the face of unprecedented threats from the UK, Russia, Trump/Bannon, international terrorism, Catalonian and other separatism, and a populist revolt against globalism, immigration, and "liberal values" which prioritise individual rights over traditional national/regional/ethnic identities. What does N. I. offer the EU?

Fourthly, the Republic of Ireland is still at least nominally committed to pursuing a United Ireland by peaceful means.  If it is viscerally opposed to a hard border, why would it be any less opposed to an entrenchment of N. I. as a distinct political entity and putative nation? Why enable a competitor for FDI and the other benefits EU/Single Market and Customs Union can bring?  Being a good neighbour works both ways.  What would N.I. offer the Republic in return for agreement?

For the sake of brevity I will posit a few principles that would need lengthy exposition to justify but which I think may hold true:

  1. N.I. Ireland doesn't qualify as a putative Sovereign State and Member of the EU because it doesn't have the cohesion, processes, institutions, leadership capabilities, resources or independent economic viability to achieve that status. The very fact that the referendum result in N. I. is being ignored by the May Government and the House of Commons explicitly voted down an SDLP motion that the Good Friday Agreement be taken into account in the Brexit negotiations underlines its subsidiary, not to say supplicant, status within the UK.

  2. The Republic of Ireland would have a veto on N. I. being able to achieve any of the cited options and would legitimately extract a price for its agreement.  That price would likely include some kind of Federal arrangement and the formal transfer of at least some Sovereign functions (Defence, Foreign affairs, Trade) from Westminster to Dublin and Brussels.

  3. Unless the Republic is prepared to take ownership of the process of inclusion of N.I. in the EU, Brussels will not care to take on the problem. It has bigger fish to fry.

  4. Scottish independence poses an existential threat to a UK which is increasingly dominated by an ever-narrower English nationalism. In that context, N. I. increasingly becomes an ever more disposable liability. The choice for N.I. in this context, (insofar as it is capable of making one) may well be not between the status quo and some other option, but the least worst option it can secure from the EU with the support of the Republic in order to stave off economic disaster. It may well take at least a decade of increasing isolation and impoverishment to change the political landscape sufficiently to make currently unacceptable options even marginally acceptable, but N.I. simply isn't the master of its own destiny in this process. London and Dublin hold all the trump cards.

I can't remember if I've said this here, but in the case of Scottish independence I can imagine a situation of shared IE/Scotland sovereignty, with Queen as head of state and all guaranteed by the EU with a medium sized pile of cash. Something like that might work. Dalriada 2.0 as someone christened it.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Thu Mar 23rd, 2017 at 12:34:01 PM EST
I've seen this suggested in a number of different forums and have never understood the logic of it.  Despite our supposed shared Celtic inheritance, Ireland and Scotland have never been particularly close politically.  I've been to Scotland perhaps 8 times in the past 15 years and sense that the feeling is mutual.

Sure, Scottish Presbyterian planters were the main beneficiaries of large scale English confiscation of lands in Ulster and the forcible ejection of their former catholic owners "to hell or to Connacht" in the 17/18th. centuries and in the first half of the 20th. century many Irish economic emigrants ended up on Scottish farms for the potato harvest or working in Glasgow shipyards. The main legacy of this is the large Irish or Irish/Scottish support for Glasgow Celtic football club.

Otherwise, despite a shared antipathy towards English ruling class arrogance and dominance, there is almost nothing that binds us together. If Scotland became independent and re-joined the EU, they would be our main competitor for FDI.  I'm all for close cooperation and friendship between Ireland and Scotland and would support their re-entry into the EU, but I just can't see any basis for forming a combined state with them.

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by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Thu Mar 23rd, 2017 at 02:46:03 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Never underestimate the power of the dark side.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Thu Mar 23rd, 2017 at 03:05:49 PM EST
[ Parent ]
More seriously, being stuck out on the edge of the Union with a potentially less than helpful Kingdom of England and Wales between us and the mainland may be all the motivation we all need.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Thu Mar 23rd, 2017 at 03:07:02 PM EST
[ Parent ]
England and Wales being less than helpful with thru' traffic could be a problem if things really turn nasty, but I don't see how an Ireland/Scotland merger would solve that problem.  More likely a nasty Scottish divorce would make things worse.  At least we would have the option of shipping direct to France.

The EU is already warning UK airlines they will lose their landing rights within the EU which they currently enjoy under the open skies agreement unless they move their bases to the EU and are majority owned by EU citizens... All disputes under Open skies are also referable to the ECJ for arbitration, so if the UK is serious about rejecting the ECJ they have no choice but to exit the agreement.

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Thu Mar 23rd, 2017 at 06:08:26 PM EST
[ Parent ]
What about trains? Do they also run based on EU treaties?
by gk (gk (gk quattro due due sette @gmail.com)) on Thu Mar 23rd, 2017 at 09:01:14 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I think ET ate my comment, new attempt.

Collaborating against England cna be done as seperate states.

Generally for a new larger state you need a movement pushing for the identity. Examples include Germany and Italia but also Pan-Slavism and Scandinavianism.

Without that, the only thing I see as a possibility is a weak Scott-Irish federation, with the aim of sneaking Scotland back into the EU. This would be if the Spanish leadership saw Scotland joining Ireland as a much less threatening example then Scotland joining the EU. Perhaps something could be made of UK leaving the EU creating a unique situation, etc etc.

Shades of my suggestion years ago of Turkey joining Luxembourg in the federal state of Greater Luxembourg with extensive home rule for Western and Eastern Luxembourg.

But overall, I think it is unlikely. Then again, we are entering a kind of chaotic politics, so who knows?

by fjallstrom on Mon Mar 27th, 2017 at 12:53:04 PM EST
[ Parent ]
A weak association within the EU is what I was thinking. Motivated by a need to throw the Unionists a lifeline.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Wed Mar 29th, 2017 at 09:11:50 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I suggested something like that. :)
How about this: England & Wales leaves the UK. The United Kongdom of Scotland & Northern Ireland remains in the EU.
by Gag Halfrunt on Thu Mar 23rd, 2017 at 08:00:41 PM EST
[ Parent ]
With everyone seeming to agree that there cannot be a return to a hard border between Republic/North, there has to be some kind of compromise deal like keeping N.I. in customs Union or even within the full EU.  There is a limited precedent for this when Greenland (part of Kingdom of Denmark) left the EU, but the rest of Denmark did not.  England Wales could be "frozen out" of the EU like Greenland...

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Thu Mar 23rd, 2017 at 08:35:13 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Newton Emerson, who describes himself as a "liberal Unionist", is one of the more interesting Northern Irish commentators on politics.

United Ireland most likely option if unionists outvoted

If nobody in the North really wants a federal Ireland, its attraction to the South is clearly the preservation of a cordon sanitaire around a lunatic asylum.

Concerns have been raised about the threat of loyalist violence, although Southerners should note this is barely an issue for Northern nationalists. Sinn Féin has persuaded its supporters that Britain directed every act of loyalist violence throughout the Troubles, so an end to British rule means no more loyalism - all rather convenient, to put it mildly.

A better reason for optimism is the example of the 1970s, when loyalists considered then abandoned every scenario they could think of for resisting Irish unity by force - and that was when they were at their strongest, with tacit support from the unionist electorate.

All loyalists do now is wreck their own neighbourhoods and shoot each other, while unionism looks the other way. Their likeliest future in a united Ireland mirrors Dublin's criminal gangs.

Southerners need to accept that if unity happens, the asylum wall comes down. Northern Ireland was created to encompass a British majority inside the UK. This is no more of a "sectarian gerrymander" than any nation drawing a border around itself.

Nevertheless, if the majority evaporates, the Border becomes unsustainable. Nationalists will want it gone and unionists will see no point to it. The Northern Ireland identity is associated with centrist voters, and although they will be the decisive demographic in a Border poll, there are not numerous enough for their identity to prevail.

The likeliest outcome of this will be a unitary state, with a national minority that looks to the neighbouring state - a common scenario across the world. In the proportions applicable to a united Ireland, which would have a 15 per cent British minority, a standard political system emerges: the bulk of the population votes along conventional left-right lines, while the minority elects a purely ethnic party or bloc and hopes to hold the balance of power.

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Fri Mar 24th, 2017 at 12:02:33 AM EST
There will be a hard border. The only question is where?
Notions of a high-tech unseen border are a pipe dream or smokescreen, Brexiteer promises of a soft border almost worthless. British prime minister Theresa May has other priorities. Anyway it depends on negotiations involving 27 other states and on what people in Ireland North and South do - or fail to do. A 56 per cent Northern Ireland majority, including many unionists, voted Remain; few Leavers want a hard border and most in the South are strongly opposed. But there will be a hard border. The only question is where?

The land Border between North and South leaks like a sieve. It meanders for 499 contorted kilometres through towns, villages, local communities, farms and occasionally houses - front door in one state, back door in the other. Even during the Troubles, when highly militarised and with 200 cross-Border roads closed, it was leaky. It is virtually useless for stopping an inflow of immigrants, the main reason behind Brexit.

So the real or hard border will actually be the sea around the island of Britain and the ports and airports connecting with the island of Ireland.


The Government must be directly involved in Brexit negotiations. While the EU does not owe Britain any favours, it certainly owes the Republic. It has been EU loyal to a fault. It is the only EU state sharing a land border with British territory and will suffer more from Brexit than other EU states. Northern Ireland will have a major concentration of EU citizens living outside the EU and they can demand to be taken into consideration. If the EU is politically smart - always a question - it will reward its supporters.

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Fri Mar 24th, 2017 at 12:18:01 AM EST
It is the only EU state sharing a land border with British territory...
Surely the Spain-Gibraltar border also counts. And then there are the Sovereign Base Areas in Cyprus.
by Gag Halfrunt on Sat Mar 25th, 2017 at 12:09:42 AM EST
[ Parent ]
There are a myriad of different constitutional and territorial designations within the former British empire:

The UK is the United Kingdom of Britain and N. Ireland. The Unionist population in Northern Ireland consider themselves to be British even though they live on the Ireland of Ireland.  The Nationalist population regard themselves as Irish.  Britain is the Island comprising England, Scotland and Wales.  It does not include the Jersey Islands and isle of Man which are a Crown Dependencies, or Gibraltar which is a British Overseas Territory.  Merely because a territory is ruled by Britain doesn't make it British... as the linked author states:

Option 2 would be for Northern Ireland to leave the UK in part or in whole, becoming a Crown Dependency (like the Isle of Man), British Overseas Territory (like Gibraltar), a Commonwealth Realm (like New Zealand) or even a republic (like Malta).

It can get even more complicated...

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Sat Mar 25th, 2017 at 12:43:17 AM EST
[ Parent ]

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