In June 2016, the English people made two mistakes: they voted to leave the EU and they did so with no idea as to what leaving would involve.
Inside the next ten years – less if there is a hard Brexit and a hard border in Ireland – there will be a border poll. We have no excuses. Either we work out in advance what Irish unity would look like, or we doom ourselves to the hell that the Brexiteers have constructed for themselves (and, for the present at least, us).
Which is why Paul Gosling’s book A New Ireland: A Ten Year Plan is welcome one hundred times. The book does what it says on the cover: it considers what needs to be done in terms of planning between now and a border poll.
There’s an early section which looks at the relative strengths and weaknesses of the southern and the northern state. The strengths of the southern state just outweigh the weaknesses. For example: the south has EU membership/ EU funding, it has high and growing pay, it has a strong economy; on the weakness side, it has a high cost of living, economic inequality, a poor/expensive health service. The strengths of the northern state are dwarfed by its weaknesses. The strengths include the NHS and a low cost of living; its weaknesses include low productivity, poor infrastructure, low wages and service duplication/sectarianisation.
What to do? After wide consultation with those in favour of and those opposed to a reunited Ireland, Gosling offers a 10-year plan.
Step 1 : A forum or forums North and South to consider an all-island Bill of Rights.
Step 2: An Economic Forum to bring together experts from Europe and America.
Step 3: Prioritise the creation of a free-at-point-of-need 32-county NHS.
Step 4: Review of cross-border co-operation, with annual targets set and reviewed.
Step 5: Consultative referendum questions constructed.
Step 6: Civic forums in major towns north and south to look at such matters as constitutional rights, health systems, regional infrastructure and economic development
Step 7: Exert pressure to obtain extended voting rights such as Irish citizen in the north in presidential election, Irish citizens in the north in reformed Seanad elections and speaking rights for northern representatives in the Oireachtas.
Boring, isn’t it? And the book, while slim, contains a great deal more thought and detail than the skimpy summary I’ve offered.
You’re right, Virginia: it would be much more satisfying, not to mention easier. to yell “Irish unity now!” and plunge towards a border poll. Gosling urges rational planning and discussion so that when a poll is called, all voters will support or oppose a reunited Ireland on the basis of what that reunited Ireland might actually look like. Not as exciting as getting the blood up and having a poll before Christmas, but then flying across the Atlantic in an airliner is less exciting than jumping out of a trans-Atlantic airliner at 36,000 feet.
I think you can buy Gosling’s book online, but if that’s a problem let me know and I can probably source one for you. Believe me, it’s almost certainly the most thoughtful book you’ll read this year.