When the Good Friday Agreement was signed, some unionists (aka the DUP) were deeply sceptical about it, seeing it as a vehicle for Irish reunification. Should they have been worried? Not so far. Yes, there are cross-border bodies, but most of us don’t know what they are, how often they meet, what they do when they do meet. Then there’s that referendum which was to be held every seven years, so we could vote on whether we wanted to stay as part of the UK. We’re twelve years since the Good Friday agreement and there are still no signs of any such referendum. “But sure it’d be divisive!” is the whine you get when it’s even mentioned. Like, we’re not divided now?
But the single biggest obstacle to reunification is the population of the south. I was talking recently to a man reared in West Cork but living in the north for the past thirty years and more. His diagnosis of his fellow-countymen: far from being Cork rebels, they see the north as a place apart and they’ve swallowed the British line, energetically promoted throughout the Troubles, that one side up here is as bad as the other. If the north is depending on those in the south to work for Irish reunification, they’ll be waiting.
Except. Except that I remember the early years of the 1960s. I lived in Dublin then and the Wee North was seen as a weird place full of hard-faced people who talked funny. And then, from about 1962 onwards, a series of books and TV programmes came out, remembering the events of fifty years earlier – the run-up to 1916. Five years later all hell broke loose and people who’d dismissed Irish nationalism as old-fashioned rubbish were transformed. That was the fiftieth anniversary We’re now just six years away from the centenary of 1916. Don’t bet against a similar transformation taking place. Except, of course, the south’s political parties manage to manipulate the legacy of 1916 and using double-talk and double-think, douse its flame.