If you want some proof that the government in the south is pro-partition, look no further than this morning’s education headlines. Entry into a university in the south is dependent on the number of points you accumulate from your Leaving Certificate or A Level performance. In a classic case of shifting the goalposts, the south has now lowered the number of points awarded for A Level grades: this coming year’s A will be the equivalent of last year’s B. The net effect will be that a lot less students from the north will get a place in institutions like UCD, UCC, UCG and Trinity College.
The defence offered will be that the south must protect its own. You remember how a southern minister ranted against shoppers who crossed the border into Newry as ‘unpatriotic’? It’s the same deal this time round: we can’t be letting those pesky northerners come in and take university places that should be going to our own boys and girls.
Of course, the potential flood of students from the north wouldn’t have been motivated by a desire to broaden horizons. It’s the fact that the south’s universities don’t charge fees while the universities in the north could be hitting people for as much as £9,000 a year - it’s those cold hard cash issues that would have encouraged many’s a northern compass to swivel south.
But that doesn’t excuse what the southern authorities have done. They’ve done the very thing they’ve been wont to accuse the unionist government of doing in the past: discriminating against a portion of the Irish people. No doubt the move will scrape a few extra votes from those in the south who’ve been conditioned to thinking of ‘up there’ as a foreign place and ‘those northerners’ as a foreign race.
The pity of it all is, if there was ever a cross-border body worth developing, it’s education. In the 1960s I was a student at UCD and I’m happy to say it changed my thinking about the south and the north permanently. Had the southern authorities wished, they could have made a major contribution to a sense of Irish identity, to helping develop a mind-set that would dismiss with amusement the sad siege mentality so much a part of the northern make-up.
But hey – failure to move the goalposts would have meant losing the vote of pro-partitionists south of the border. With Fianna Fail heading for a scalping in Donegal South-West, that’s the last thing the southern government is going to do.