Tag Archives: Ireland’s future

Editorials: Ireland’s future and Ireland’s Future, The EU gets even more bellicose

Ireland’s future and Ireland’s Future

Ireland’s Future” is a nationalist think tank which recently released a report entitled “Ireland 2030” with proposals for the period between now and then, i.e. 2024 – 2030. https://irelandsfuture.com/publications/ireland-2030-proposals-for-the-period-between-2024-and-2030/ While this editorial is not intended to be a full scale analysis of this report, it does refer to some points of agreement and disagreement while looking at aspects of what “Ireland’s future” should be.

The Irish government needs to be pro-active – in a way it has not been – to explore what a united Ireland might entail. One point of disagreement with the Ireland’s Future group is on timescale. It is important that nothing is rushed and therefore that the short timescale in that report should not be followed. Some things take time.

The reason we would say that the Irish government should be proactive is not to push a nationalist agenda but to avoid a vacuum. At the moment, while various discussions have been held, there has been no officially-sponsored discussion from the 26-county state on what a 32-county state might look like – despite the ideological commitment to same. Ireland’s Future recommendation to have a dedicated Joint Committee of the Oireachtas on ‘the Constitutional Future of the island of Ireland” is fair enough as far as it goes but it should not be limited to constitutional change – it should be considering social, cultural, economic and human security matters as well. The Civic Forum type body (“”All-Island Civic Forum/Assembly/Dialogue”) which Ireland’s Future recommends, however, is much broader.

There are obvious reasons for the state in the Republic not having done more, and one being not to inflame loyalist passions in the North is positive in the sense that they are thinking of others. But it is also irresponsible because at the moment ‘a united Ireland’ can mean anything, and also people in the Republic have not thought through what it might mean and entail, e.g. in relation to national symbols or to the nature of the state. We know, to a considerable extent, what a ‘United Kingdom’ with Northern Ireland as part of it means; of course there are uncertainties on this, much arising from Brexit, and currently from British government attempts to reassure northern unionists on their commitment to the Union.

We cannot currently compare like with like, or unlike with unlike. If a united Ireland does come about there will of course be some uncertainties right up to whatever changes take place. But we need to know a general impression of what is likely to be the template so that people can be encouraged to make a rational decision – insofar as they are willing to do so – in both the North and the Republic.

Ireland’s Future also recommends that “Human rights, equality and environmental assessments – and associated values – must shape every stage” (of the process they recommend). This is commendable. However the idea of harnessing international opinion (in favour of a united Ireland) is unhelpful and should only be utilised if it is clear that a Secretary of State should have called a referendum, based on what is in the Good Friday Agreement, but has failed to do so for whatever reason. The most important opinion to be influencing is in the North, not internationally.

The fact that Alliance is no longer a small-u unionist party, with more party members supporting Irish unity than the continuation of the existing United Kingdom, is certainly a straw in the wind. It is only a decade ago when prominent Alliance party member Anna Lo caused very considerable angst by proclaiming herself in favour of a united Ireland. For unionists, this will be proof that Alliance has ‘gone over to the other side’ but in reality Alliance as a party has taken no position, and it is another clarion call to unionists to up their game in being able to demonstrate that the continuation of the status quo (or something like the status quo) is in the interests of the majority of people in Northern Ireland, so that they note and vote accordingly. While some unionists are starting to express this point of view there is not much evidence as yet of it being put into practice.

Whether a Labour government in Britain, likely within the next year, affects things significantly remains to be seen. It will be less English-nationalist and perhaps less defensive of the British army and its deeds or misdeeds (cf NI Legacy Act) but it is unlikely to significantly loosen the purse strings. Of course many people will vote on simple unionist/nationalist lines when, and if, it comes to a referendum on Irish unity, but the ‘middle ground’ of Alliance-type voters, and other swing voters, may decide on economic and social grounds as to what is best in the medium to long term for the people of the North. In this case such people may decide that some short term pain, in relation to economic wellbeing and general disruption of existing institutions and practices, is worth the long term gain. Alternatively they may decide the divil you know is better than the divil you don’t.

However there are many things which would need to happen first before there would be a referendum, not least changes and developments in the Republic irrespective of the nature of the proposed constitutional arrangements and any ongoing devolution to the six counties of Northern Ireland under either jurisdiction. An initial point we would stress is that Irish unity, if it is to come, should be a process and not a sudden volte face. There are many ways of organising such a process but a sudden move from UK to Republic without very considerable planning and consultation could be a disaster in a variety of ways – societally, organisationally, financially, and in relation to resistance, violent or not, to such a move by unionism and loyalism.

The Good Friday/Belfast Agreement of 1998 gives the power to the British Secretary of State to decide if and when to call a referendum “if at any time it appears likely to him that a majority of those voting would express a wish that Northern Ireland should cease to be part of the United Kingdom and form part of a united Ireland.” This is very imprecise, gives the Secretary of State a lot of power, and no Secretary of State as yet has clarified exactly what circumstances would lead him or her to that conclusion and course of action. And if a vote was in favour of a united Ireland then ”the Secretary of State shall lay before Parliament such proposals to give effect to that wish as may be agreed between Her Majesty’s Government in the United Kingdom and the Government of Ireland.” Unfortunately not all of those holding the position of Secretary of State for Northern Ireland could be said to be first class players in British politics or indeed imbued with great understanding of the realities of Northern Ireland (this is an considerable understatement).

It all does get pinned on a simple arithmetic majority (50% +1) either way in a referendum. A multi-option vote would have been a better way to proceed but we are where we are and neither side is likely to want to change from that. This is where the importance of process comes in. However here is nothing to say that a multi-option referendum or referenda could not be held at any stage after the simple arithmetic majority vote.

We would strongly argue that even if there is a vote for a united Ireland in such a referendum that should be the start of a process, perhaps with an indicative time frame of a number of years and certainly not the next morning, next month or even next year. If the writing was already on the wall then many more unionists would seriously engage with the issues involved and the definite shape of a new Ireland could be thrashed out; at the moment only a few from the unionist side of the house are willing to engage with such questions. Without adopting the details of the time frame advocated by Ireland’s Future – and it is a different context, this is the sort of thing which should come into play after a majority in a referendum vote for Irish unity, if that comes to pass.

And if unionists want to have any chance to continue a link with Britain then they need to facilitate a situation where nationalists are happy to continue under the UK umbrella because their needs are addressed and they also feel they can express their Irishness north of a border. Without that then changing demographics are likely to do their work for a united Ireland. It is clear that some unionists already grasp this but not a majority, and the default position is still nearer ‘what we have, we hold’.

If a united Ireland is coming then how unionists’ British identity and culture can be protected is a key issue. We would argue strongly that this can be done culturally without the Irish state becoming a pale reflection of the neighbouring island, and nor should it entail NATO membership. With freedom of travel between Ireland and Britain, in a united Ireland anyone from Ireland who wanted could, as now, join the British armed forces.

Nationalist commentators – including those in Ireland’s Future – are right that ‘reconciliation’ should not be a precondition of unification but then reconciliation should be a key element in any political moves, full stop. Independent work for reconciliation should continue but be a consideration in all political moves, unionist, nationalist, or other, and the two or three governments involved.

Decisions about the future of Ireland are complex, despite unionist or nationalist simplicities. Clarity is of the essence. The people of Ireland, both sides of the border, deserve honest analysis so that the best decisions can be made for the long term future.

The EU gets even more bellicose

Bellicosity’ is perhaps an old-fashioned word, and comes from the Latin word for war or warlike, ‘bellum’, and perhaps ‘warlike’ is more prosaic English. But, whatever word you prefer, the EU is gearing up for a fight with Russia, and unspecified others, along with supporting Ukraine in its war with Russia. The mind boggles. The EU, along with its NATO allies the USA and UK, and Russia are all nuclear armed. It is crazy to continue to push forward with confrontation and a new cold war arms race which no one can win. Donald Tusk talks about a “pre-war era”. A senior NATO official recently told EU ambassadors in Dublin that it was a matter of ‘when’ that Russia would invade the EU, not ‘if’.

Rapprochement and conflict resolution or even conflict transformation are difficult but are not even being thought about. And Russia under Putin is not easy to deal with. Those favouring armament and a military approach talk about Munich and British Prime Minister Chamberlain’s mistaken deal with Hitler in 1938. But this is not 1938 or 1939 and Putin may be a murdering quasi-dictator but he is not Hitler and has a more rational approach to what he feels he can get away with. Putting more money in the armaments basket simply leads to the other side doing more of the same. ‘The West’, EU and NATO ignored Russian security concerns when they decided to take NATO membership up to Russia’s boundaries.

It takes two sides to have an arms race. Those who lose are initially the poor when money is diverted to pay the arms merchants and armies. And if the weapons and armies are used in anger then everyone loses big time.

How can we engage non-violently with a somewhat belligerent ‘other side’ without either giving in to unreasonable demands or seeming weak and vulnerable? And what about ‘our’ side’s warmaking (Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya)? Why are Europeans not thinking in ‘win/win’ terms, difficult as that may be? What common goals could be decided on that would convince all sides that win/win solutions are possible? What are Russia’s legitimate security concerns? How can Russia be turned from an ‘enemy’ into a friend, as it seemed it might become after the fall of communism? And what went wrong there? Putin may be in power for more than a decade from now but how do we assist a less nationalist and more open Russia to emerge during and after his rule? These are some of the questions which need to be asked but are blatantly not being aired.

Of course it may feel different if you are sitting beside Russia’s borders than if you are falling off the western edge of Europe like Ireland. But it is precisely the ongoing NATO expansion to Russia’s borders which was the occasion for Putin’s full invasion of Ukraine. It may be counter-intuitive to those with a militarist mindset but building up your armed capacity does not necessarily make you safer, it may simply make your perceived enemy more anxious and trigger-happy, and you more likely to use the weapons you do have. Think of what led up to the First World War and where that ended up.

Neutrality has been disparaged by the NATO powers that be and their fellow travellers in Ireland. So it is good to see a congress happening in Columbia on neutrality as a way to aid international stability. There are so many possibilities for neutrality which those in control of the Irish state seem not to see; the sky (plus the earth and the sea) is the limit. We need to build up the visibility and perceived viability of neutrality as a rational and effective means to work towards international and global peace.

In ending this piece it is worth quoting the entirety of a recent statement from MIR in Italy on developments in the EU:

The Movimento Internazionale della Riconciliazione – a historic Italian pacifist organisation affiliated to the I.F.O.R. – expresses its dismay and concern at the attempt to transform the European Council into a ‘war council’, with the expansion of the EU’s military commitment, not only in terms of war production but also by ventilating a worrying ‘readiness strategy’, which envisages an emergency plan to ‘prepare citizens for conflict’.

“The president of the European Council, Charles Michel, did not hesitate to dust off the old Roman motto ‘If you want peace prepare for war’, hoping that Europe would produce more ammunition and weapons and increase its defence spending,” said Ermete Ferraro, president of the M.I.R., “Moreover, pandering to the invitation coming from the very summit of the E.U. executive, Ursula von der Leyen, Michel clearly hypothesised the transition to a ‘war economy’, preparing citizens for a defence perspective in a blatantly warmongering key”.

M.I.R. Italy considers these statements to be very severe, as they do nothing but exacerbate the current armed conflicts, sidelining the European Union on a ground that betrays its own founding principles. Indeed, Article 3 of the Lisbon Treaty (2012) states that ‘The Union shall aim to promote peace, its values and the well-being of its peoples’, and Article 5 states that: “(The EU) contributes to peace, security, the sustainable development of the Earth, solidarity and mutual respect among peoples, free and fair trade, eradication of poverty and the protection of human rights […] and to the strict observance and development of international law, in particular respect for the principles of the United Nations Charter”.

“These principles cannot be reconciled with openly bellicose policies, in which solidarity is understood as sending arms to a country at war,” commented Ferraro. “Therefore, together with the other pacifist organisations, we strongly denounce these dangerous positions and reaffirm the ethical but also constitutional principle of repudiation of war as a mean of resolving international disputes, reaffirming instead the need to develop an unarmed, civil and non-violent defence method”.