Civic nationalism and the Taoiseach

One of the most revealing events I’ve ever attended was the one held last January, I think it was, in the Waterfront Hall. It had a series of speakers and panels, and while they weren’t all riveting or novel, taken as a whole it was a moment when civic nationalism made it clear that it was putting its weight behind a drive for a united Ireland.

The very fact that some 2,000 people on a wet January morning would travel to the event tells you something about the way nationalists here are feeling. It’s true middle-class (and quite a few working-class) nationalists appreciate some of the benefits of being in the UK – notably the NHS. But just as individuals can get to a stage in a marriage where they say “Right- that’s it. I’m out of here”,  so too a layer of society can reach the point where they decide enough is enough, this just isn’t going to work, and head for the door.

A similar event to the Waterfront meeting was held in Newry later this year and was by all accounts equally successful. Since then, there’s been little follow-through, something which struck me as a mistake. As a friend of mine said, the group organizing civic nationalism might well have availed of the fact that this is the week-end of the GAA Football Final, and used the presence of many  people, including those over from the US for the match, to hold a similar meeting in Dublin.

But they didn’t.

We need to engage in some serious public discussion. Discussion about things like regional assemblies, a different flag, a different anthem, becoming part of the British Commonwealth –  all these things would need to be looked at carefully.

There are those who shy away from Commonwealth membership or a new national anthem as a step too far. It isn’t, they aren’t.  If you’re talking about an inclusive Ireland, everything should be up for discussion. How this conversation would be constituted – who would be participating, who will decide participants – that and related matters merit honest and focused thought.

But all this needs backing from the two governments involved – Britain and the Republic of Ireland. Governments act when they feel sufficient pressure. Maybe it’s time someone elbowed Leo. Yes, Brexit is the big one at the moment. But Leo needs to know that just as hope and history can rhyme, so can Brexit and Irish unity.

Comments are closed.