They had the chance! by Pat McArt (from his column in the Donegal Democrat)

Earlier this year – September 11th to be exact – there was a significant occurrence: 51% of the people surveyed in Northern Ireland supported the idea of Irish unification. As far as I’m aware that is the first time any poll showed there was a majority in the North in favour of unity. Brexit has changed everything.

Last week Mercier Press sent me a copy of a book, ‘Laying it on the Line’, which deals with ‘the Border and Brexit’.  Author Jude Collins interviewed a whole host of people (me included) and it’s abundantly clear the times they are a changin’. Big time!

Let me quote you this, it’s by one well known Northerner: “You cannot underestimate the level of sectarianism in this society. You put in a Freedom of Information request about the religious make-up of the police or the prison service and you’ll find it’s largely Protestant at every level. One of the reasons Catholics haven’t bought into the PSNI or the prison service is that they are looking at the DUP. Now I don’t vote for Sinn Fein. I’ve no time for them. But the real problem is the DUP: it keeps rubbing your nose in it. For f….sake, boys, back off. A bit of statesman like behaviour wouldn’t go amiss.”

Anyone who guessed that was Joe Brolly go to the head of the class.

In his own colourful way Joe has summed up, in just a few sentences, how frustrated Northern nationalism has become with the DUP, and why opinions and attitudes are changing.

Indeed, I was thinking as I was driving down home the other morning that if I was Mary Lou McDonald or Michelle O’Neill or whoever is in a leadership position in the Shinners these days I would be sending an effusive email to Arlene Foster and the DUP thanking them for their help. They have, I would contend, done more to bring about Irish unity than any republican.   

Apart from the Renewable Heating scandal which has their fingerprints all over it – and which led to the collapse of Stormont – their contempt for the Irish language, the riding rough shod over the 56% who voted to remain in the Brexit vote and their overweening arrogance during their recent pact with the Tory government at Westminster have all combined to really piss off nationalists to a degree that’s off the scale. They have even alienated the west Brit type Catholic who had previously sort of acquiesced to living in a British statelet which is some achievement.  (A copy of Dale Carnegie’s best selling ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People’ might have come useful for Arlene at some stage.)

But the big question that’s now come centre stage for us: is our government ready to deal with all this change that’s definitely coming down the track? Are we ready?

Diarmaid Ferriter, professor of Modern History at UCD, in his piece in Collins’ book, suggests we are not. He makes the point that while our politicians have always urged dialogue between the communities in the North, there has been little by way of North-South conversation about the future. Senator Mark Daly, another contributor, goes even further when he said that neither the government nor his party, Fianna Fail, has produced a policy document of any sort on Irish unity despite the fact that Attorney General Rory Brady has said that unity is ‘not an aim or an objective but an imperative’.

So let me be helpful here. Could I be so bold as to suggest that what’s needed pretty damn quick  is for our government to set up some kind of citizens assembly, another ‘New Ireland Forum’ if you like to provide a road map for possible unity. All shades of opinion, all sectors of society – north and south-  should be invited along and have buy-in. And, most definitely, there should be no changes or referendums or Border Polls until all issues are debated and agreed upon.

Just look across the pond and see what the total lacking of planning for Brexit has done to the Brits. That’s one template that we should not be using.

Anyway, to conclude let me go back to my old mucker, Joe Brolly: “Of course it (Irish unity) can be done. It’s inevitable. Northern Ireland is dead. And within 15 years it will be buried- it’s gone. Fifteen years from now isn’t really long. People think as I do that the Good Friday Agreement was signed yesterday- because that’s about as much progress that has been made. But time’s up. Time’s up! They had the chance. They had the chance.”

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