I was listening to RTÉ radio the other day when a Derry woman came on. She’s a journalist/presenter with RTÉ and nationalist/republican in her background. So it gave me a tiny jolt when I heard her referring to the south’s efforts to cope with the weather as an attempt to keep all roads passable “throughout the country”.
Pernickety? A silly hyper-sensitive response by me to the use of ‘country’ rather than ‘state’? It would be if besides reflecting our thinking, words didn’t help shape it. By consistently and constantly referring to the twenty-six-county state as ‘the country’ or to the six counties as ‘the country’ (as in Stephen Nolan’s ho-ho catch-phrase ‘the biggest show in the country’), the population is nudged another fraction of a millimetre towards acceptance of the present political arrangement in Ireland as something permanent.
Words are powerful in other ways too. Sometimes we use them to talk about Thing A, when in fact we’re really talking about Thing B. Step forward Labour’s Joe Costello. He’s the spokesman for that party’s transport policies, and he’s just announced that the A5 ain’t going to happen, when and if Labour get into power in the south. You remember the A5. That’s the road from Augnacloy to Letterkenny, running round Omagh and Strabane en route. Brian Cowan says he’s for it. Now Joe says it’s no go - the southern taxpayer won't help fund a road running through the north.
On financial grounds you might think it hard to fault the Labour man - over £400 million is a lot of money, especially in these straitened times. But you might also want to query him a bit on what he sees as ‘Ireland’. Is it the twenty-six counties? Does he see people north of the border as his fellow-countrymen? Is he opposed to partition or for it? Does he believe that the north and south working together is the logical follow-up for any party claiming to be even mildly nationalist? Or is Irish unity something to consign to the rubbish-bin of history?
Joe's line is a slightly more subtle version of the “going north to shop is unpatriotic” cry we heard a year or so ago from a Dublin minister. So this is as good a time as any to come clean. Guys, if you are pro-partition, say it, and let’s see if the people of the twenty-six counties agree with you in the coming election. If you’re anti-partition, shouldn’t you be seizing every opportunity to develop and implement projects which show what Irish people, working together, can achieve?
The irony of all this is that the proposed A5 road would be a concrete example of border-blurring work AND a sound financial move. Besides benefiting Omagh, Strabane and Derry, it'd unlock Donegal from the economic Siberia it’s found itself in since the foundation of the southern state. Win-win, I think they call it.