Majority may want a united Ireland, but they won’t pay for it
What kind of Ireland do you want? Some want a united Ireland that absorbs Northern Ireland and retains the national anthem and flag. Others want a new Ireland, a merger of the two parts into something different from what went before.
The new Ireland, they say, would be richer and more diverse.
Research published in the Business Post at the weekend says that most people in the Republic are not ready to lose the tricolour as the flag of the new, enlarged Ireland, or the national anthem, Amhran na bhFiann, the Soldier’s Song, to make the place more amenable to northern unionists.
What this means, in effect, is that they want a united Ireland built on the narrative of the historic freedom struggle — the War of Independence. That’s what the anthem stands for.
Campaigners like Fianna Fail’s Jim O’Callaghan and Fine Gael’s Neale Richmond are keen to stress that they do not see themselves as carrying past grievances with them in their desire for unity. They want to put all that behind them.
But who is going to tell the people of the Republic that they can’t have their anthem and flag in the new Ireland?
The north needs only 50% of the voters plus one to affirm their legitimate claim to be part of the Republic. Most of that 50% is likely to be quite happy to have the Soldier’s Song and the tricolour.
They may be persuaded that losing them would appease the middle-ground undecided voters in the north, Alliance Party types and soft unionists, who might accept some day that the game is up and that they are better settling terms in advance of a referendum than after it when they will have nothing to barter with.
And as for those in the Republic who say they want to keep the flag and anthem, how much do they really want to keep them?
Would they jeopardise the prospect of Irish unity, preferring the symbolic expression of their republicanism to the substance of it? Would they rather pine for the fourth green field than actually have it?
Maybe they are saying that the sacrifices of the past are too important to be ignored.
Or maybe they are thinking that, if the north doesn’t want them as they are, it can get stuffed. You can join our club as it is, but we’re not changing the rules to woo you in.
That Red C poll in the Business Post has illustrated the difference between the traditionalist united Irelanders and the new Irelanders, who imagine us all starting afresh without the baggage of history.
It shows that those who offer a new way of thinking about Irish unity may not prevail and that the old chauvinists might win in the end.
More likely, when people say that they would not be willing to give up the anthem for unity, their thinking is not that they would rather go without unification, but that they don’t really believe they would have to. And that may one day be a valid calculation.
The fact that the young voters seem more interested in a united Ireland than the older ones suggests that it’s only a matter of the older ones dying off and the younger ones getting what they want.
But people change their politics as they age, don’t they? The ardent Fenian of today may be queueing to shake hands with King Charles tomorrow. It has happened before.
That mightn’t amount to giving up on the dream of a united Ireland, but doing what most nationalists have done; they’ve left it to another generation to sort out.
There are some nice anomalies in the poll. A quarter of Sinn Fein voters, for instance, would not vote for a united Ireland today.
A similar proportion of the Sinn Fein vote does not think that the Irish government should start planning now for a united Ireland and only 54% of the Sinn Fein vote would endorse a united Ireland if they had to pay higher taxes.
So, they revere republican martyrs who gave their lives for a united Ireland, but they have no sacrifices of their own to offer.
A quarter of the Sinn Fein voters polled said they would support Ireland rejoining the Commonwealth to help bring about a united Ireland.
It wasn’t the biggest story drawn from the poll, but clearly there is a big chunk of the Sinn Fein vote that is tepid in its desire for Irish unity.
The party may be solidly committed, but at least a quarter of those voting for it are doing so with other aspirations in mind.
Has anyone thought about how the north would take it if they voted for unity and, at the same time, a vote in the south failed?
That would be traumatic for northern nationalists. It would make fools of the middle-grounders who’d been won over, ensuring they’d never vote for a united Ireland again.
That might set it back not seven years, as allowed for in the legislation, but for a generation — or more.
Unionists would feel they had been dumped by Britain when the poll was called and nationalists would feel that they had been dumped by Ireland.
And everyone might suddenly feel that it would have been better if they hadn’t had the bloody poll in the first place.