13

One of the major issues which the EU and UK will face in case of a no-deal Brexit is the question of the border between the Republic of Ireland (country in the EU) and Northern Ireland (part of the UK).

Putting aside the fact that the UK would probably never allow for such thing to happen, would the population of both parts of Ireland be in favor of a unification under a new country?

The precedent I can think of is Western and Eastern Germany which re-united in 1990 under a new country: Germany thanks to the integration of the German Democratic Republic into the Federal Republic of Germany. There were probably other cases as well.

  • 22
    "the fact that the UK would probably never allow for such thing to happen": as I understand it, the UK has committed to honoring the result of a referendum in favor of reunification, if there ever is one. – phoog Aug 23 at 0:22
  • 3
    You might be interested: politics.stackexchange.com/questions/34434/… From the top answer, "If Northern Ireland were to hold a referendum on union with the Republic then it would fail because Protestants are still in a majority there. However Catholics would still refuse to acknowledge the legitimacy of this because in their view it should be the whole of Ireland (North plus South) voting, as Ireland should never have been divided." – Allure Aug 23 at 2:51
  • 4
    The question isn't whether they "would" be interested but whether the are currently interested or could become so given a catastrophic Brexit. The mechanism is clear: if a majority in the North vote for it, it happens. – matt_black Aug 23 at 10:33
  • 5
    Ignorant question from Yank: would there be interest in a union of the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland, and Scotland (which rejected Brexit by a large margin) inside the EU. Would adding largely Protestant Scotland change the NI equation? – Andrew Lazarus Aug 23 at 23:46
  • 1
    @AndrewLazarus I'm also American, so limited understanding here too, but I don't think pro-independence Scottish and Irish folks would necessarily like a Scotland/Ireland union better than the status quo, especially given that most of Ireland is already independent, – Justin Lardinois Aug 24 at 5:01
10

No, the governments of Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland cannot agree on unification. Regardless, many people on both sides of the border would support it, and many in the north would violently oppose it. The reality of trying to implement such a thing is, for now, prohibitively complex, dangerous, and expensive.

Northern Irish politics is dominated by the question of whether the province should be part of the United Kingdom or a united Ireland. Northern Ireland's two largest political parties who are/were sharing power, the Democratic Unionist Party, and Sinn Fein, represent the country's [British] unionist and [Irish] nationalist hardliners respectively. Public opinion of which way the province should go is split almost down the middle. There is strong correlation between a protestant background and unionism, just as between a catholic background and nationalism.

Peace in Northern Ireland occured in 1998 following a period of bloody warfare between various paramilitary terror groups and British security forces known as 'The Troubles'. This, and the threat of a return to violence, overshadows all other political concerns locally, and is deeply tied to sectarian identity politics.

South of the border in the Republic of Ireland, it seems the government is less keen than the people on the question of unification. The two largest parties in the Republic, historic rivals Fine Gael and Fianna Fail, are working together recently, largely it seems to spite Sinn Fein. It's important to note that while Sinn Fein is a major power in the north (29.4% of the vote 2017), they are a minor power in the south (13.8% of the vote 2016).

Unification has not been a key issue for most voters in the Republic for a long time. Nonetheless, one poll conducted May 2019 of 3000 Irish voters found that 65% supported unification. To contrast this, in Northern Ireland, unionist parties shared 55% of the vote in the 2017 general election.

Two recent developments have changed things. The apparent inevitability of a no-deal Brexit has led Sinn Fein's leadership in the north to demand a border poll (precursor vote for unification) if no-deal Brexit happens. Sinn Fein has also decided that it will now accept being the minor partner in a coalition government in the Republic.

Leo Varadkar, Ireland's Taoiseach (prime minister), has responded to Sinn Fein by saying Fine Gael will not enter a coalition with them, and also that now would be a bad time for a border poll. Varadkar's objection is that this would require the creation of a new state with a new constitution to take into account the cultural and legal differences with Northern Ireland, and that such an enormous task cannot be rushed.

Add to this the fact that Northern Ireland is one of the most deprived parts of the UK, receives a disproportionate subsidy from Westminster, and has a police-state-like security apparatus required to keep a lid on the north's... unique 'culture' and security risks. Basically, it'd cost the Republic a lot to acquire the north, and in return they'd inherit considerable social and security problems.

In 1994 the Ulster Defence Association released a plan for the "repartition" of Ulster. The UDA, an active loyalist terror group, said that in the event the British Army leaves Northern Ireland, they would withdraw from majority catholic border areas to majority protestant strongholds, and then create a wholly protestant state. This would involve the ethnic cleansing of any catholics who remained.

In 1969 as violence escalated in the north, there was an emergency meeting in the south. The Irish government asked their army if, in a doomsday event where there was a complete breakdown of law and order in the north, they could invade and secure majority catholic border towns Derry and Newry. The army told them no, this was not possible. It seems therefore unlikely that present day security forces from the Republic of Ireland would be able to prevent or suppress the inevitable loyalist insurgency which would result from the unification of Ireland.

Furthermore, the Republic gave up its claim to Northern Ireland as part of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, upon which peace in Northern Ireland is based. The Good Friday Agreement also affirms that Britain and Ireland must accept the will of the Northern Irish people, whether they wish to remain in the UK or unify with the Republic of Ireland. It is incorrect to suggest that the UK would not permit this, as this is one of the core conditions of peace which they are legally bound to.

There's other political differences at work which make the prospect of unification difficult. The Republic of Ireland has never had a left-wing government, both Fine Gael and Fianna Fail are generally understood to be right-wing nationalists who are more similar than different.

The reality in Northern Ireland is quite different. The public service is a major employer, and both unionists and nationalists are effectively in favour of tax and spend (without the tax; this is Westminster's subsidy).

The situation is complex and changing. The most recent survey of attitudes in Northern Ireland found that half of those surveyed identified as neither nationalist nor unionist, and that this is part of a historic trend away from strong identification with one side or the other.

While unification is unlikely soon, in future it seems possible, some would argue even probable, especially if the protestant community in the north shrinks.

  • tl:dr. What is this "government of Northern Ireland" you are talking about? The Northern Ireland Executive which is vacant since 2017-01? – Martin Schröder Aug 24 at 12:46
  • 5
    @MartinSchröder Unfortunately, even though they refuse to do their jobs, they are still the elected and legal government. If they wanted to, they could get back to work tomorrow. They just refuse. Until Westminster imposes direct rule, they are local government, regardless of whether they do anything or not. – inappropriateCode Aug 24 at 18:55
31

Irish Nationalists, mostly from the Catholic community, have been trying to achieve an independent and unified Ireland for hundreds of years.

Before 1921 the whole of Ireland was part of the United Kingdom. At that time Ireland was partitioned. From the late 1960s until the adoption of the Good Friday Agreement there was an active paramilitary and terrorist campaign for a united and Republican Ireland. Before the Good Friday Agreement, the Republic of Ireland did not recognise British rule of Northern Ireland.

Those in the Catholic community are certainly in favour of a unified Ireland outside of the UK. Those in the Protestant community are strongly opposed to leaving the UK. There are elements in the Protestant community who would react violently if forced to leave the UK, just as there are elements in the Catholic community who would react violently to any form of "hard border" between the North and the South. Elections in Northern Ireland are divided not between "left" and "right", but between "nationalist" and "unionist". Currently, the Unionist vote has a majority in Northern Ireland. The Catholic, Nationalist vote would hold a majority across the whole island of Ireland.

The Good Friday agreement establishes the principle of self-determination for the territory of Northern Ireland. There can be no unification of Ireland unless there is a majority in favour in Northern Ireland. That majority does not currently exist.

East and West Germany is not a close analogy. There is no analogy to the Protestant Unionist community in Germany.

  • 1
    The bolding seems inappropriate as it suggests only those on one side of the issue are prepared to resort to violence. – Jontia Aug 22 at 22:03
  • 8
    I bolded it because that is the part that actually answers the question "would the population of both parts of Ireland be in favor of a unification?" But I've rephrased to address your concerns. – James K Aug 22 at 22:46
  • 4
    It is probably wrong to assume the Unionist or protestant community is uniformly opposed to unification or, perhaps, even that they are a majority of the population. If Brexit is an economic catastrophe, enough might change their mind to swing a referendum. And non-partizan parties have recent had major electoral success (alliance recently won one of three EU parliament seats). So things are less clear than you think. – matt_black Aug 23 at 10:31
  • 1
    @Philipp My point was not that there is a consensus to change but that the consensus to stay In the UK is not solid. And the major parties on both sides (unionists and nationalists) have agreed a clear mechanism to define how the status of NI could change. – matt_black Aug 23 at 11:58
  • 7
    "until the adoption of the Good Friday Agreement there was an active paramilitary and terrorist campaign for a united and Republican Ireland" - I think it would be worth mentioning that there was also a similar campaign on the unionist side, as written it sounds a bit like the republicans were the only ones using violence – llama Aug 23 at 17:51
7

Who is "Northern Ireland" in your question? There is no sufficiently uniform populace. Democratic decisions will take into account only the voice of the majority even when the minority has strong but different claims to be heard.

It turns out that the answer for Northern Ireland is a strong "Yes" and a strong "No", with the discord being large enough for civil war. So it's better not to press the question.

The EU membership of both Ireland and UK was a working way to avoid having to answer the question. The backstop was a way to at least postpone having to address the question. Johnson's "remove the backstop" demands amount to ignoring the consequences of not having a solution for dealing with this question, on the back of the Northern Irish populace.

Ireland would have little problem accepting Northern Ireland "back", but creating a political solution that would not cause the large Protestant part of the populace in Northern Ireland to revolt would be rather tricky. Johnson throwing Norther Ireland under the bus would help acceptance of independence from the UK but not of union with Ireland.

2

For those outside of Ireland, There is a larger than realised proportion of catholics that for financial reasons prefer the devil they know in than joining a 32 county Ireland would hurt their pockets quite considerably. In the north we have the health service free, prescriptions free, water inc in our rates, free transport for over 65 years tv licences for those over a certain age and that is just the tip of the problem. As a northern “Protestant” I don’t care as long as you can afford me and do not disrupt my life style.

  • 2
    I think you need to back this up with some sources. Though anecdotally I'd agree. There are also a number of non financial issue, reducing importance placed on Catholic/Protestant heritage by younger generation, Re the political breakthrough of the Alliance party. Also with recent Irish referendum, abortion is more restricted in NI than in RoI a legal separation unlikely to continue post unification. These and other issues detract from the 50/50 population statistic answers. – Jontia Aug 24 at 17:21
-2

Ireland only recently gave up its claim to the entire island as part of the peace settlement in NI.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Articles_2_and_3_of_the_Constitution_of_Ireland

The objectors would be the Unionist population of northern Ireland, who make up about 50% of the population.

  • 13
    This is not an answer. It is just a tangential comment and only adds confusion. Ireland revoked these claims as part of the good Friday agreement which also give NI citizen a political route to a united Ireland through a vote so dropping this fact without context is misleading. – Keith Loughnane Aug 23 at 9:49

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.