Michael McDowell moves in mysterious ways

Ranelagh Arts fest. Senate Debate, Sandford Park school. Ruairi Quinn, Michael McDowell, Eoghan Murphy TD, Noel Whelan. Chair: Dan O’Brien, Irish Times. Photo: Michael Foley.

When you see Michael McDowell writing a column about a reunited Ireland, as he does in this morning’s Irish Times, you know that the topic is so central to public thought  in Ireland, he really has no choice.

Not that he thinks it’s a good idea – I mean, come on. We’re talking Michael McDowell of the Progressive Democrats (RIP).  Michael has long been opposed to any hint of anti-border sentiment, and he doesn’t disappoint his followers this morning.

Let’s not be throwing shapes on issue of Irish unity’ is the title of his piece, and the core message is “I’m agin a UI”.  No surprises there. But when a man with the keen mind of a barrister makes statements like “If we haven’t yet settled even on the outline of a feasible form of Irish unity, we aren’t even remotely in a position to plan for such a poll” you know he’s rattled. Because he appears to say here that if we haven’t begun to plan for a reunited Ireland, we’re not in a position to, um, plan for a reunited Ireland.  Weird.

Maybe Michael is having an off day, or just giving his razor-sharp brain a rest. What other explanation could there be for the worn old  kicking-and-screaming line? “The people of the Republic simply will not vote for any form of Irish unity in which the unionist and loyalist people of the North are dragged against their wishes into an all-Ireland republic by an Anschluss plebiscite”. There  You get the Anschluss reference? No? That’s because Michael wants to remind you he has a razor-sharp intellect that knows references and stuff  you don’t. If you google it you’ll see it’s a reference to the uniting of Austria and Germany by Hitler, something forbidden by the Treaty of Versailles.  So now you know – to push for a reunited Ireland is to do the Hitler thing.

Two final points: no one in their senses would want to drag 8-900,000 unionists into a reunited Ireland, even if they were whistling rather than screaming.  Or engage in a civil war, which Michael tosses in as a possibility. In the planning for a reunited Ireland, all of the Irish people should be accommodated to the fullest possible extent. No section of the population should be made feel prisoners in a new state, as were the nationalist population of the north when partition was imposed.

Lastly,  Michael skips around the Good Friday Agreement. Besides saying the British Secretary of State must decide a border poll is worth holding,  Michael leaves out the bit where, if a majority vote for a reunited Ireland, that’s how it will be.  The way Michael puts it, until the unionist people are convinced that a reunited Ireland would be a good idea, we must just shut up about it.

No we won’t, Michael. And to even hint that we should is to add a yen for censorship to a contempt for the Good Friday Agreement.

As one of my interviewees in Laying it on the Line: the Border and Brexit puts it: “Is this what we signed up to? Well, fuck that!”

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