When those of us in the 26 counties talk about the prospect of a United Ireland, it is a near certainty that someone will speak up to talk about making sure that a new Ireland is one that is welcoming to unionists. However, dwelling on this fact is of little use to moving the conversation forward. It is an accepted reality that unionists need to feel that the Irish state works for them. What us Southerners often neglect in our conversations is that the nationalist community also needs to be accommodated in this New Ireland.
When looking northwards, nationalist determination for a United Ireland can often cloud the reality which is that changes will need to be made. Whilst nationalists want to be a part of an all-island Irish state, this often isn’t at all costs. John Hume once famously remarked, “You can’t eat a flag”, and in a border poll this will be at the forefront of most people’s minds. If a United Ireland means people having to pay for healthcare all of a sudden, then it’s unlikely that a majority of people in the North will vote to make themselves worse off.
Moreover, a successful border poll will not end the constitutional question, but it will begin a new constitutional question. It’s safe to say that Bunreacht na hÉireann was designed as a Catholic constitution for a Catholic Ireland. There’s no doubt that changes will have to be made to accommodate unionists in this regard, but it also ought to be considered that Bunreacht na hÉireann is a constitution for a partitioned Ireland, written by a man who seemingly refused to acknowledge that fact.
In all likelihood, the retention of a devolved assembly in Stormont will garner cross-community support. Not least given the fact that there is also a cross-community mentality that Dublin doesn’t really care about Northern Ireland. While some may dispute this, it’s a mentality that is well grounded in fact.
A century on from the partition of this island is important for those of us in the 26 counties to reflect on how past governments failed people we called our own, simply because they were on the wrong side of the border. For decades, Irish people felt abandoned by the Irish Government. Simply put, it’s because they were. When Bernadette Devlin asked the Irish Government to provide gas masks for children in the North, the Government refused. This is one of many instances of an Irish Government abdicating its responsibility to Irish people.
There’s often the presumption that the result of a border poll passing will simply be the North being added on to the South. There is no scenario in which this can be for the better. This State has failed people in Northern Ireland time and time again, as has the UK. Leaving one state that neglects you just to join another state with a strong record of the same simply won’t be good enough. Simply put, a United Ireland will never be realised without the creation of a New Ireland, with a new constitution, and a new understanding of what an Irish state really means.