A Unionist Response To Frank’s ‘United Ireland’ Article

Having read Mr Schnittger’s recent article, I thought I’d chip in with a few thoughts from a Unionist perspective, although this op-ed will not assert that unionist concerns should be the primary factor in the event of a pro-unity result in any future border poll, but only that it behooves both traditions on this island that men and women of goodwill and best intentions put ideology aside and strive for an acceptable new state where everyone can feel comfortable, and where 1916 will have to share space with 1690 without one dominating and/or diminishing the other.

Firstly, why exactly are we Unionists? Well, many moons ago, the reasons were undoubtedly religious and economic – the fear of industrious Protestant colonists in a largely agrarian and deeply Catholic land – and that mindset formed the kernel for the (in my personal opinion disastrous) mobilized unionist opposition to Irish Home Rule in 1912-14.

But the goalposts have shifted over time, as they do, and as religious and economic reasons subsided as primary objections to a unified and singular Irish state (in or out of the UK), culture has become the main shield for the so-called PUL community against the UI crowd. In the wake of revolution, partition, the IRA onslaught against the nascent Northern Ireland state in the early 1920’s, and, of course, the Troubles, any lingering sense of innate Irishness among the wider PUL community has been largely severed, and the perception that to be Irish is to be solely Catholic, Gaelic, and anti-British has taken root.

This is, of course, nonsense (although Dev certainly gave it a good try), but like all stereotypes, there is a core of truth but not the whole truth. Nonetheless, the perception endures to this day and most unionists will say they are so because they feel British to the core – in values, in culture, in historical connection – and that the foundational myths of modern Ireland are antithetical to their own personal values and beliefs.

That is the basis of today’s unionism, and something Irish nationalism (or, for that matter, successive UK governments) has neither understood nor particularly tried to understand, some notable exceptions like John Bruton (RIP) and Bertie Ahern notwithstanding… but they are going to have to if their dream of a reunified island is to come to pass. Many on this site will dispute that assertion but demographics is not destiny and has proven so.

So, with that foundation behind us, let’s move on to what would a reunified Irish state look like in the event of a border poll wherein the UI side prevailed? Or perhaps, more accurately, what should it look like from a unionists’ perspective?

First and foremost, there will be a need for a Constitutional Convention to be convened in order to draft a brand new Irish Constitution from scratch; page one, article one, section one, line one. All participants must have meaningful input to ensure a peaceful transition period, transfer of sovereignty, and a cohesive society thereafter. That being said, safeguards should be put in place for final decisions made. If unionists feel their concerns will simply be outvoted in such a convention, they won’t even bother showing up.

A constitutional link to Great Britain will be maintained in some manner (including potential rejoining of the Commonwealth), and compromises will be needed on both sides for the flag and anthem issue. English and Irish languages will be on an equal footing (with specific acknowledgement for Ulster-Scots as a bone to unionists) with any mandate on Irish language fluency for public sector employment completely unacceptable to unionists and will be, I believe, one of the first concessions to the PUL delegation.

Stormont should be retained during the transition period, wherein upon official transfer of sovereignty, the devolved legislature ceases to exist thereafter and the bicameral Parliament in Dublin assumes full responsibility. In terms of that aforementioned Parliament, I believe efficiency should be key; set the membership of the new lower house at precisely 180, with counties (plus the cities of Belfast and Dublin) becoming the constituencies and electing 4-6 representatives. An effective Official Opposition should be established, salaried and resourced at public expense. Should ‘unionists’ merge into a single party in a UI to protect their community’s interests (and with around 25-30 likely members in the chamber), they should drop the ‘unionist’ tag – with all it’s connotations – and adopt a new and fitting moniker; perhaps Christian Democratic Party, which would reflect their values and ethos and allow for growth into the roughly 33% of conservative Irish sentiment in the lower 26 counties.

Additionally, any new Constitution of a reunified Irish state will require a higher bar for amendment than the somewhat lax stipulations enshrined in the current Bunreacht na hÉireann. At the very least, a minimum two-thirds majority (67%) of votes cast approving the proposed amendment in question should be the constitutional threshold. Irish governments would be a lot more circumspect about amending the foundational document if there was a considerably higher bar to cross.

Should there be protections and special dispensations made for unionists, vis-a-vis guaranteed places in government or enlarged representation in a reformed Senate (such as happened in the Free State’s upper chamber)? Formally – as in being enshrined in the new Constitution – I would say no, but informally, like appointments to the aforementioned Senate, there not only should be but will be as the Irish government of whatever hue and composition at the time of sovereignty transfer will be acutely aware and alive to the fact that the world’s eyes will be upon them – especially in DC and Brussels – and they will make a Herculean effort to not just treat former unionists with respect but be seen to do it as well. 

And that is, ultimately, the throughline of this article; a pro-UI result will undoubtedly be a shattering body blow to unionism and the PUL community in general – especially working class loyalist heartlands – but it’s one that can and will be absorbed with good faith and honourable motives from all sides, and that this blessed little corner of the world can put it’s bloody and exploited history behind it once and for all.

Dei Voluntas Fiat

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