Uniting Ireland

On Thursday 22 March Tommy McKearney participated in a debate organised by Trinity College Dublin’s Philosophical Society on the merits or otherwise of uniting Ireland. The panel debating the motion included

Dolores Kelly, Deputy Leader of the SDLP
Tommy McKearney, Irish republican, socialist, and former hunger striker and volunteer of the Provisional Irish Republican Army

David McNarry, Unionist MLA, former Chief Whip of the UUP, member of the Orange Order
Jim Allister QC, Leader of Traditional Unionist Voice and former MEP

Tommy’s address is included belo

That this would reunite Ireland

Speaking of unity without a definition is similar to architects talking of design without reference to buildings or a composers chattering excitedly about music yet never naming a tune. 

Without defining parameters and at least outlining its content and shape, unity could mean, as it did prior to 1920, one island under the British crown. Alternatively, some might interpret it as a 32 county republic governed by pro-consuls Kenny and Gilmore on behalf of the Troika. There are other possibilities but enough is enough. 

Unity cannot be a nebulous concept, sufficiently elastic to meet the needs or aspirations of every constituency or interest group that wishes to promote a woolly objective instead of developing the type of defined plan or campaign policy that could be examined and subjected to possibly embarrassing scrutiny. Nor can unity be the mere bolting together of two currently different jurisdictions on this island. 

Unity must have at its core, its own inherent logic and meet an identifiable need. That logic and need exists. Ireland of the collapsed economy (north and south) can ill afford two different currencies, separate phone and postal systems, uncoordinated health and education services, competing economic strategies and contending retail sectors and more damaging still – two populations unable to coordinate their resources and talents seamlessly.  All that before we begin to speak of the destructive potential arising from fratricidal conflict that is all too often still simmering under the surface of northern society. 

Objectively speaking, there is a strong case to be made for unifying Ireland. Let me say, incidentally, to those who view Irish unity as an outdated, slightly passé concept that it strikes me as somewhat strange that many who share this notion are devotees of the European Union. 

Unity, if it is to address the issues referred to above, cannot be either a woolly aspiration or an attempted exercise in political welding. Uniting Ireland must involve meaningfully addressing the needs of contemporary society.  Indeed it would be worth considering creating a society of united Irish to carry out this task. 

Of course the phrase society of united Irish is a loaded phrase but it is used deliberately. We should not wallow in the past nor should we be prisoners of history. Yet we should not be so arrogant as to distain the thoughts and deliberations of people of genius and insight from previous generations. Among such giants were alumni of TCD – Citizens Tone and Emmet. 

Should you now fear a repetition of some of their well-worn phrases, rest easy please. My point is not to recall their oratory but to examine one of their most precious insights. That was that we cannot build a new and better political entity with the deformed or flawed structures of the past. Let’s not forget that in spite of their failures and their flaws and their ‘being of their time’ they opened a door to the Enlightenment.

Those United Irish who first sought to unite the people of this island realised that it was an imperative that they did not attempt to reconcile the irreconcilable but to offer a different template of governance  to all. They recognised the futility of attempting to bring Jacobite and Williamite together in common purpose. They could see clearly that there was little point asking  Roman and Reformed Churches to review their positions and merge. And they understood the risk in trying to undo the past, regardless of injustices.

The invaluable insight that emerged from that period was to understand the need not to waste time and energy attempting to repair old and broken structures and practices but instead to recognise the imperative to build anew. 

Is this a fanciful or idealistic ambition? Yet when the old is not working – and it’s plain to be seen that it is not – human kind must look for a better option. 

The French Left is now openly demanding a 6th French republic. A state where the inequalities and deprivations and the lethal hostilities of the 5th French republic would be overcome. Why should we not again look to France for inspiration once again and seek to build something similar in Ireland.

We need a new republic, one qualitatively different from the old. Where the economy is organised to serve all and not just those new age aristocrats who through good fortune or criminal rascality can harness the market to their own ends. A republic where all have an opportunity to participate in society by having the opportunity to work. A republic where the employment of all allows us to properly care for the elderly, educate the young, tend to the sick and provide a society fit for humanity to develop.

This poses two crucial questions. 

Can such a proposal work in practice or is it mere Utopianism? Well of course this proposal can work. We are not discussing economics in detail on this occasion but let  us take a look at one scenario. One billion Euro could employ an extra 83,612 people at €12 per/hour in this state. €3.1 billion would employ 259,197. Economics, remember, is not just about mathematics but is also about making choices and this is possible is we choose that path. 

Can such a proposal unite the people of Ireland? 

Several years back I had a conversation with an early member of the modern Ulster Volunteer Force, a man who had enjoyed the confidence of Gusty Spence and acted as a confidant to the late David Ervine. He spoke of the need to ‘re-define the Union’ in light of;

a) The UK government’s concentration of its economic focus on the finance sector in the South East of England and this to the detriment of the periphery especially Northern Ireland. 

b) The eventual departure of Scotland from the union, something that is keenly felt by those northern Irish who have a close affinity with Scotland.

c) The clearly changing and changed attitudes of the southern Irish to religion and the Roman Church

Most powerfully, he said that the world has changed since 1912 and we can no longer act as if it had not.

This then is what can and will unite Ireland, a newly built society with its economy structured to provide for the common good of all and a society willing to explore a radically new system of governance taking into consideration the changing conditions and circumstances in Ireland (north and south), in Britain and abroad.

Our partitioned island has its roots in many issues, the rearranging of which will not unify the people or our society. We could do worse than heed the advice of that doyen of common sense, Tom Paine when he said

‘We have it in our power to begin the world over again’. 

We shall unite Ireland through beginning again with a new republic

© Tommy McKearney 2012                                                                                      email:    tommymkearney@me.com