Belfast Telegraph

Katie Hopkins is loud-mouthed and opinionated... but is she wrong about Irish unity?

The professional controversialist at least had the knack of annoying both nationalists and unionists with her united Ireland comments, writes Eilis O'Hanlon

What do Gerry Adams and professional provocateuse Katie Hopkins have in common? More than you might imagine.

Both of them have a new book out this month. Both are famous for violently dividing public opinion. Both are more used than most of us to being interviewed under caution by the police. Now it turns out the pair also share a belief in the inevitability of a united Ireland.

At least, that's what Katie Hopkins has been telling interviewers while promoting her memoir, Rude.

The Sinn Fein leader must be mortified to find himself singing from the same hymn-sheet as someone who once described migrants as "cockroaches".

Politics does make some strange bedfellows.

What's even more surprising is that Katie Hopkins still claims to broadly support the DUP, whose entire reason for existence is to stop a united Ireland from coming about. Nor is this the only subject on which she disagrees with that party's more traditional supporters.

Hopkins is also firmly pro-choice when it comes to abortion, as well as taking huge pride in being, in her own words, a "gay icon" - not a thing that can safely be said about your average Democratic Unionist.

Is she wrong about a united Ireland, though? Even suggesting that Katie Hopkins may be right about something is regarded as disgraceful in certain quarters. She didn't become the Most Hated Woman in Britain by packaging her opinions for widespread approval. Unionists will be fervently hoping she's wrong about this, too.

The good news for them is that she is wrong - but only insofar as saying a united Ireland is "inevitable". That's going too far. Nothing in life is certain except death and taxes, as Benjamin Franklin famously said.

But a united Ireland is undoubtedly plausible at some point in the foreseeable future. British politics is in flux right now. All bets are off.

It's easy to sketch a scenario in which Brexit leads to the break-up of the United Kingdom; and if Scotland goes, how long can Northern Ireland realistically cling on?

Nationalists, on both sides of the North Channel, only have to get lucky once.

The law of probability suggests that they'll manage it one day and it would, indeed, be the ultimate irony if a united Ireland came about directly because of a rise in British, rather than Irish, nationalism.

There are other factors at play, too. Historically, unionism has always been a defensive philosophy by definition, forced to hold out like a city under siege, assailed by enemies without and a growing faction inside the walls, which is not sympathetic to their cause. Such situations rarely end well for the defenders within.

True, the numbers are hard to interpret. Despite a narrowing gap between Protestants and Catholics, polls consistently show that the number of people who want a united Ireland right now is comparatively small compared to those who long for it as a distant aspiration, or who don't want it at all; but that doesn't mean those people wouldn't vote for reunification if given a chance. After all, they might not get another one for a while.

That's why unionism should be wooing those who see themselves as Irish, rather than alienating them in a short-sighted bid to shore up a tribal base that's solidly behind the Union anyway.

By not making a persuasive case for staying in the UK, unionists sometimes give the impression that they think a united Ireland is inevitable, too, and are simply trying to hold off the dreaded day for as long as possible. That only makes it more likely to happen.

What happens then, nobody knows. All hell breaks loose for a while, probably. As for what a united Ireland looks like when the dust clears, that's similarly mysterious.

Possibly, some kind of federal settlement, with largely self-governing regions, might be one solution. Sinn Fein flirted with that idea decades ago in a policy known as "Eire Nua", before immediately rejecting it as heresy, presumably on the grounds that it actually made imaginative allowances for Ulster's separate identity, rather than pretending that centuries of history can be wished away by the creation of a Celtic fairyland.

The point is that anyone who says constitutional arrangements are fixed in stone is ignoring the lessons of history. No specific outcome is inevitable, but change is. All that ever remains to be determined is what sort of change it is. That in turn will shift over time, too.

Nothing lasts forever. The Act of Union between England and Scotland has only been in existence since 1707 and might not have happened at all if the Scots hadn't bankrupted themselves by recklessly trying to become a colonial power. (Some say they've been unable to pay their own way ever since.) This is the blink of an eye in historical terms.

England itself could break up after Brexit. Restless regions might go "full Catalonia" and demand their independence - or perhaps London, not wanting to cut itself off from European money markets, which make the capital so rich, will assert its rights as a new city state, like Venice of old. It's a brave and foolish historian who'd dare to make predictions.

Ireland, likewise, is bound to go through countless metamorphoses over time. Who knows what they'll be? More to the point, who cares?

The future is for the people of the future to figure out. Let them lie awake at night worrying about it. We have enough troubles (no pun intended) of our own.

It's obsessing over issues such as when and how a united Ireland will come about, or how it can be thwarted, which stops politicians from getting on with the duller, but more important, day-to-day business of government.

Katie Hopkins should be commended for managing to annoy almost every one of them with a single statement: nationalists, by saying she supports the DUP; unionists, by declaring that Irish unity is inevitable. One can only imagine that this would please her greatly.

Some of her wilder opinions are difficult to defend, not least her view after the Manchester Arena attack that the problem of Islamist terrorism needs a "final solution". That's not a phrase which should readily trip off any reasonable person's tongue since its adoption by the Nazis.

But there's something refreshing about her refusal to give a damn what the perennially affronted think about her, especially in this touchy-feely age when everybody wants to be liked.

We're all so desperate not to give offence that we spend half our lives these days apologising for having the audacity to express opinions at all.

Belfast Telegraph

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