Published on 16 Jun 2010

Ireland: United it stands?

There’s prosperity in Londonderry, Belfast and in so many of Northern Ireland’s towns and villages that throughout the Troubles was for ever absent.

Derry itself has an air of confidence as it bids to become a ‘City of Culture’.

Amid the joy on the Derry streets yesterday, the applause from a Nationalist crowd for a British Conservative Prime Minister as he apologised for one of the worst collisions between people, army and the state to have occurred in any Western Democracy in our time, I found myself asking a question.

What I have seen in more than thirty years of coming here has been the development of a burgeoning, educated, wealth creating middle class.

A class that in past times in the Nationalist community you only found replicated south of the border.

But today ‘south of the border’, has an altogether novel air.

It is an air of dispossession, unemployment and flight to other countries to deploy the skills that once fuelled the Celtic Tiger Economy. The balance has tipped.

The question now is whether the thrusting nationalist middle Class – offered the unthinkable – whether to stay with the Union, or two join the Republic of Ireland would actually vote ‘yes’.

Culturally, Derry and the other urban concentrations of Nationalists are Irish. But socio-economically they bask in the pound sterling – glancing south at Euro zone suffering cuts, deprivation and hardship as bankrupt Ireland battles to surface from the crash.

Despite the discovery of Cameron, there is no love affair with London, but for now, not only are the Northern Irish more at peace with themselves, they are at peace with where they are.

On the fringes of a Britain, that even when the cuts come, will fund them more generously that the south ever could.

It’s an intriguing conundrum and in this moment in their turbulent history it’s hard to divine when if ever, the majority will ever opt to become part of a United Ireland.

Article topics

Tweets by @jonsnowC4

24 reader comments

  1. Alex says:

    I very much doubt the South would be willing to vote for the North’s inclusion in a united Ireland.

  2. Saltaire Sam says:

    While the economics might say stay, my guess is the heart will always say go.

    The split between north and south in Ireland has always struck me as one of the many bad borders drawn by the British for their own convenience and benefit but which took no account of the people involved.

    It was done with an arrogance that remains to some extent today in our desire to police the world, to have a nuclear deterrent and to impose our values on others.

    Our view of ourselves as a major player is taking a long time to die . Even in the face of a financial disaster, we choose weapons ahead of services for the old and needy, nucear bombs ahead of universities.

    But perhaps there is some hope. Bloody Sunday and its cover-up was typical of a society that thinks it is always right, no matter how wrong. The Savile report has thrown light into a dark corner, and its acceptance by a British governement – all credit to David Cameron – is a massive step forward.

    1. the-Richard-of-Nottingham says:

      “…drawn by the British…” & “Our view of ourselves”

      You seem to be very confused about your own identity Sam.

    2. Saltaire Sam says:

      Not confused at all, Richard. But my reading of history sees a lot of what has been done by Britain as negative and insensitive cartography played a big part in that and caused many conflicts.

      I will never be someone who says ‘my country, right or wrong.’

    3. Meg Howarth says:

      Well-said, Saltaire. Was about to respond to Richard when I was pleased to see you’d already done so. Best.

    4. the-Richard-of-Nottingham says:

      “…negative and insensitive cartography”

      Who’d be a map maker eh ? Not sure that I want to wear the hair shirt and pay for the sins of my fathers. I hope it feels comfortable on you.

    5. Mudplugger says:

      Saltaire’s right – it’s not about paying for the sins of your fathers, it about recognising those errors and letting the descendents of the victims know that you recognise them.

      Just like slavery, no-one of this generation can make good the sufferings of those who actually bore it. Similarly, no-one can bring back to life those killed on Bloody Sunday by the UK military or those killed on so many other occasions by the para-militaries of both sides in the conflict. That’s just not do-able, so let’s focus on what is.

      Cameron played it very strongly, and with none of the fake sincerity some of his predecessors would have displayed – for a Conservative (and Unionist) leader, that took a lot of honesty and courage. He actually sounded like he meant it.

      It may take another generation or so but, surely, the ultimate destiny of Northern Ireland is to become unified with Eire and thus finally delete just one of those clumsy cartographical lines inherited from our forefathers. It can’t come soon enough.

  3. adrian clarke says:

    The important factor is living in peace together.Peace will always bring more strength than war.It is a pity that the Arabs in Palestine do not realise the same and get a more prosperous and hopeful life.
    I would have said some years ago that there aught to be a unified Ireland, but religion and religious persecution,plus its intolerance made that an unlikely occurance .Now that the two communities are learning to live and work together,it is less of a problem .
    The big problem now would be the Euro v The Pound

  4. Gavin James says:

    There is a third way here as businesses both sides of the border take advantage of the all island initiatives (Inter trade Ireland, Tourism Ireland) that were born out of the good Friday agreement, hopefully we will see a united Irish economy that ignores the political battle lines

  5. David says:

    Jon, I’ve always respected your handling of the North and again yesterday C4 news showed up all other British stations. However I think your conundrum is a little premature. While you are right that to say the Republic is suffering from cuts, unemployment etc. However, i It is only a matter of time that something similar hits the North, based on the UK’s debt etc. When that happens it will probably even out the misery on both sides of the boarder and bring the Northern Nationalists back on board for a United Ireland…………….assuming they had wavered in the first place!

  6. akamrburns says:

    Some years ago, long before any ceasefire, I had a fascinating conversation with a taxi driver in Belfast. I had some reservations when I first met my huge, shaven headed, tatooed driver in the hotel lobby. Our subsequent conversation is one I will never forget – and I will never forget him. Behind his somewhat intimidating exterior was a highly intelligent, sensitive man, a man who had been ‘involved’, who had suffered loss and who was well aware that ‘the struggle’ had changed and was now as much to do with graft as with politics. The conversation we had was not ‘taxi talk’ – in fact it turned out he wasn’t a regular taxi driver. I didn’t hold back on the questions I asked, and he gave me straight answers. A fifty minute taxi ride – including a short detour to ‘places I should see’ – gave me an amazing insight into ‘real’ life in Belfast. Interestingly, his solution to the N I problem was prosperity… investment and jobs. A higher standard of living for all was the best way to soften attitudes and allow a peace process to start… how right he was.
    Oh, and I was unable to make my contribution to his dream – he refused to take any money for the fare!

  7. John Fitzgerald says:

    Something I’ve often wondered myself. I reckon there would have been a strong economic case for unity pre-credit crunch, but as you say, the balance has shifted now.

    John Hume used to argue for creating governmental and economic structures at a European level, while allowing cultural and political identities to flourish more locally.

    I’d be interested to see experiments with dual currency in NI. Most businesses there (even tiny ones) have Euro bank accounts as well as sterling.

  8. Peter Stewert says:

    Though true for two decades or so, there is realisation & appreciation in Nationalism for the level playing field in 21st Century N.Ireland. Equality has not quite been enough to seriously dampen desire for a united Ireland and present financial troubles only serve to push unification hopes in to the future.

    Dreams of Unification & the power of the IRA were both extinct or getting there prior to the troubles. However, this changed after being terrorised by the Unionist government for daring to ask for a fair shout, and seeing the bias & feeling the bullets of the UK government. Reasonable dreams of equality moved on to dreams of escape and to a unified Ireland. Casual discrimination escalated to gun attacks (RUC/UDA, same difference) and people being burned and run out of their homes at gun point.

    The attitude of David Cameron & the Saville report continue to assure Nationalism that the past is just that & that they are equal memebers of 21st Century Britain. (What it takes to assure unionism of their security is anyone’s guess). With luck both sides will come to view themselves as N.Irish first & stop looking south or to the east for a sense of identity.

  9. Jim Flavin says:

    As you say – hard to see why the Affluent Nationalist middle classes would on economic grounds – and they are the ones that usually count in elections want to join the South .The ” Troubles ” always seemd to be between the working classes – and working class Unionists– I dont think they would want to be part of a greater Ireland under any circumstances . Maybe – and there are a lot of ” Ifs ” – The South was affluent again , the Nortern Protetsants / Unionist had some saftey by way of veto in parliament or weighted voting . They are IMO continually afraid that London will dump them ?? – and again IMO – I dont think London wants NI – – it is nothing but a headche to them – and an embarasing one yestrday . I would like to see a United Ireland as it would dilute the Papist State that i s still the South – and wheter the South wished it or not – it[ South ] would of course have to rspect all Traditions – and that would be a major upheaval in the South which IMO is badly needed . That is why the failure of the 1798 Rebellion was such a disater . It was formulated by Protestant middle classes .

  10. Jim Flavin says:

    contd . [ hopefully ] . i know its going back a long way – but if that 1798 rebellion had suceed – we ceratinly would have a hopefully very different Ireland today . The basis of it in Tones words were it would be a State for ” Catholic , Protetant and Dissenter ”- . I can say with confidence at the minute that Dissenenters to this basically Papist state are not popular . I think re-unification will happen some time – but will require major mind shifts on the part of many – not least the South .

    1. Jim Flavin says:

      Replying to my own message – anyway yesterday I had an attack of optimism – possibly brought on by the events of previous day .Now in cold light od day so to speak – o-one in their right mind should IMO join this ultra rotten papist State . Up to some years back Protetants were not even considered 2 b ”christians ”. They would have to pass some sort of exam in ”limbo ” to get to the perly gates . Total farce .If that inhuman thug in Rome were to visit – he would get a heros welcome – so my advice to anyone bearing in mind the religous nutiness of most of the people – the apparent levels of corruption which – . At least in UK the MPs scandal was investigated . Here we must have very honest poliiticins or journalists who dont use the Freedom of Information to get stuck in . In short this place of smiling wonderful people is a papist dump.

  11. John Smith says:

    In a vague way, a mirror image of South Africa and Zimbabwe. The former on the rise economically and the latter languishing because of unsound economics and even worse politics.

  12. Margaretbj says:

    Mo Mowlam will be looking down . It was good to see old footage of her again.Would she be cheering David Cameron on ? yes I think she would, as her heart was very deeply attached to her job.

    I felt guilty myself as I saw those young men with their arms up against the wall and wonder whether the relatives would really be able to forgive us.

    Religion again . The nationalist catholics and the protestant unionists must see, if there is to be progress, Christianity as the main thrust for religious endeavour.

    Irish peers will certainly feel more powerful for the English connection , but this only serves to be inflammatory as economically the southern Irish suffer.

    When I think of Ireland, my perceptions are of a unified Ireland ( misplaced or not) and I think of all the writers, artists, musicians, dancers and their soft beautiful Irish brogue as they strive to live in tradition , yet move forward.

  13. Margaretbj says:

    P.S excellent programme last night Jon and Alex , and of course those from home.

  14. Moonbeach says:

    I hope that peace remains in Northern Ireland and that the bitterness of the past is forgotten.

    But is it too mischievous to think that it would be fun to be a fly on the wall when Dublin Council considers an application from the Bally Button Total Abstinance Apprentice Boys Band to march past the O’Connell Street Post Office on 12th July!!!

  15. Mudplugger says:

    I spent some time in NI at the height of the ‘troubles’ in the early eighties. I was staying with ‘unionists’ who took me on a tour of the ‘sights’ of Belfast at that time – scary isn’t the word for it. Until I’d seen it, I didn’t really believe how bad, or how extensive, it was.

    But my over-riding view was that what was missing was a ‘middle class’. There was great wealth (mainly in the Unionist hands) with large houses and estates, then a huge gulf to the depressed terraces, which predominently housed the Catholic Nationalist community.

    I’m not sure that religion was actually the driving force it is purported to be – it may have just been a convenient vehicle for the relatively dispossessed to express their anger under its banner.

    It was a definite a ‘tale of two cities’, with precious little middle ground, so no visible ladder-route for the poorer to see any way up, hence their disenchantment.

    If growing wealth can cascade down and, in so doing, bridge the gap between those starkly different societies, then there is hope for all in Northern Ireland now to share a peaceful and prosperous (and quite beautiful) place.

  16. Stephen McCarthy says:

    First thing, where did you hear the Republic of Ireland is bankrupt? I’m afraid to inform you that it hasn’t got to that. The UK is in a very similar state to ourselves so I don’t think that would be a major factor in any decision. After all we were not wealthy for many decades and that didn’t stop people calling for a united Ireland.

  17. Earl50 says:

    I have many friends in the South and love spending time there . They all have deep worries about their financial state. On our last weekend break in Donegal we found virtually no migrant workers anymore, previously they seemed to outnumber the locals in hospitality jobs.But perhaps the most conclusive sign is the number of southern registered cars we see in our large shopping centre car parks. Border towns such as Derry/Londonderry and Newry and even Ikea in Belfast are thriving swollen by the influx of shoppers from the south.

  18. Ciaran says:

    I believe a 26 county government led by Fianna Fáil is currently the single biggest obstacle to a united Ireland from an economic perspective. This government which was motivated by greed and cronyism led the 26 counties into the deep recession that it is currently experiencing. If the interests of the everyday person were placed before the interests of banks and other big businesses then the 26 counties would today be an economically vibrant region that would captivate and lure northern unionists into being part of. The appeal of merging with a 26 county region with a stable economy similar to some of the Scandinavian countries would be significant for a northern unionist rather than being part of a U.K. economy buried in debt. It won’t be until there is a real change of government in the 26 counties that starts working towards creating a sustainable economy driven by indigenous enterprise that provides a high quality of life for all its citizens that the northern unionist will once again begin to seriously consider Irish unification. It makes absolute sense for a united Ireland under these circumstances.

Comments are closed.