Don’t hold your breath for a united Ireland — there
may still be troubles ahead

It being St. Patrick’s Day, I am writing this on a Lilo shaped as a rugby ball, floating blissfully in my infinity pool, the water dyed emerald green. For breakfast it was the food of the High Kings of Tara, two dozen Strangford oysters, finest soda bread, a pint of Mr Guinness’ best and a bottle of Black Bush. The day is starting well.


Then an email arrives from Dumpster, he of the tea-coloured mac, who asks when I think Ireland will be unified as one country again. Leaving aside that it was a terrible folly to split off six of the nine counties of the province of Ulster in 1921 and create an artificial edifice described as ‘a Protestant parliament for a Protestant people’, my answer was probably in more than another 10 years. Fifteen maybe if all goes well.


Ah, that old caveat ’if all goes well’ because as we all know it never does. Ask Rishi Sunak.


Thankfully, the days of the Troubles are now history and they would never have begun if the Ulster state hadn’t operated what amounted to an apartheid system where Catholics couldn’t find jobs (or more accurately they could find them but were never given them) where a predominantly Catholic city like Derry returned Unionist MPs because of gerrymandering. And where the odious Lord Brookeborough, who served as prime minister of Northern Ireland for 20 years, placed an ad in the Belfast Telegraph for an underling on his Fermanagh estate specifying  ‘No Catholic need apply.’


But now there is a large and wealthy Catholic middle class in Northern Ireland (the majority of millionaires are Catholic) and the Catholic/Protestant ratio is roughly 50/50. And of course Sinn Fein is the largest party at Stormont with Michelle O’Neill as First Minister. She and her DUP counterpart Emma Little-Pengelly appear to have got off to a good start and we must all hope it stays that way. In the Republic Sinn Fein, under its decidedly middle class, privately-educated leader Mary Lou McDonald, is likely to form the next government.


The dark days of President de Valera and his goal of a backward, church-dominated agrarian republic are over and the Catholic Church no longer has any real influence throughout the island. In other words, Prods in the North have little to worry about. And increasingly they are talking openly of why unity is not only inevitable but a good choice. The Irish language is being learned by people in the North of all and no religious persuasion, including a Jewish friend of mine. My father’s cousin, a Protestant, taught Irish and that was back in the ‘50s.


But, but, but ... though the North is at peace, there are still headbangers around. It is these who pose the threat to reunification, especially to those living in the Republic, currently a booming EU economy. A border poll will be voted on by every eligible adult across the island, north, south, east and west and I suspect that some in the Republic will be wary that those remaining so-called loyalist paramilitaries in the North might bring trouble.

A new government here needs to start planning, though it will be low down the pecking order of urgent business given the performance of the last decade. Brussels and Washington will have significant roles to play but the key actors will be London, Belfast and Dublin. Get it right and there is nothing to fear. Britain and a newly united Ireland will be close friends and allies.


Another factor is the Royal Family. The late Queen won over the late Martin McGuinness and many in the Republic with her visits and Charles, illness allowing, could do the same. He is known to have made many under-the-radar visits when Prince of Wales and Camilla has a natural, earthy warmth that the Irish love.


Of course in many ways the island is already united. All sport except soccer is played on an all-Ireland basis and when (not if) there is reunification a new national anthem could be the rousing anthem of rugby’s champions, Ireland’s Call. This is the second verse: ‘From the mighty glens of Antrim, from the rugged hills of Galway, from the walls of Limerick and Dublin Bay, from the four proud provinces of Ireland.’ Let it happen.


 Rugby aside, the island of Ireland performs as a country 10 times the size of its population of seven million. Great actors, Oscar winner Cillian Murphy, Brendan Gleeson and Colin Farrell the pick of the current illustrious crop; writers from Beckett, Oscar Wilde, Yeats and O’Casey to Colm Tobin, John Banville, Roddy Doyle and Colin Bateman (if you haven’t read him yet, you must.)


But it’s music that stands as one of Ireland’s greatest achievements. The Chieftains celebrated the baroque brilliance of the blind itinerant harper Turlough O’Carolan and today Sir George Ivan Morrison from East Belfast is one of the world’s greatest song writers and performers.


Best of all, go into any pub from Cork to Coleraine and there’s bound to be a session, live traditional music played by talented amateurs. And not only on Paddy’s Day. Slainte!


On other matters my chum Thackery, a proper Tory as opposed to the sham bunch of nasties currently running the country into the ground, calls in some despair. He longs for an election because that way, he says, we will have a real Conservative in charge.


Step forward Keir Starmer!


18 March 2024