My mother used to have a saying when she thought something was highly unlikely: “There’ll be two blue moons in the sky and another in the dughal(dung-heap), the day that happens.” I would have said something similar five years ago if you’d told me I’d read a Fintan O’Toole article where he urges planning for a reunited Ireland. But that’s what I’ve just done. In today’s paper.Smelling salts for the cat, Virginia.
Of course, Fintan being Fintan, he manages to shoe-horn in a few tired ideas. In answering his own question “Can Britishness be embraced in its most progressive forms?” he points to the extension of the North’s NHS to the whole country (or ‘island’ as Fintan likes to call it.) Psst, Fintan. It’s not just people who see themselves as British who’d want an Irish NHS. We’d all like that. What’s not to like? An Irish NHS would quell some unionist concerns but would mean nothing in terms of British identity – except you think there’s something British about building hospitals and looking after the nation’s health.
And in his final paragraph, Fintan summons the words of John Hume. The Irish Constitution, he tells us, aspires “not to unite territory but to unite the people who share the island”.
Let’s nail this piece of wriggling nonsense for once and all. When people say “We want a reunited Ireland”, of course they don’t mean they want the two bits of Ireland to be put physically together. Not much point, really, since they are already together. What they mean is that they want the removal of barriers, in this case the border. And yes, joining the territory in this way does contribute to a united people. Otherwise why would such a fuss have been made of removing the Berlin Wall? Barriers keep people apart. Territory can be governed by the wrong people or the right people. We need ground to stand on, to sustain us. It’s not an either/or, Fintan. We want barriers removed from the territory so Irish people can be reunited.
Still, Fintan urging preparation for national unity – who’d have thunk? As Samuel Johnson said “Sir, a woman’s preaching is like a dog’s walk on his hind legs. It is not done well; but you are surprise to find it done at all.”