When I was interviewing Gregory Campbell for my book he made an interesting point regarding unionism. He said that when the south of Ireland was riding high ten years ago, unionists weren’t interested in a re-united Ireland; now that they are a bankrupt state unionists still aren’t interested. In short, he said, economics had nothing to do with the matter.
That’s a parallel but different track from the line that Peter Robinson has been taking of late. His argument that many Catholics are now happy to remain within the UK - that is, have become unionist - is because they have no wish to associate with the bankrupt republic to the south. In other words, they know which side their bread is buttered on. They want to stay in the union with Britain for economic reasons.
To sum up: unionists/Protestants simply can’t be bought - their commitment to Britain is total and unchanging. Nationalists/Catholics, however, can be bought - their commitment to a re-united Ireland is partial and dependent on material prosperity.
Do you believe that? I don’t. Certainly the past 400 years seem to give a different answer. But who knows? Times change.
Interestingly, today’s Irish Times reports that Sinn Féin over the coming weeks will launch a campaign for a Border poll on a re-united Ireland. And the man who says that many Catholics/nationalists are now happy to be part of the UK, that less than 10% of people here want a re-united country, says there’s no justification for such a poll and that it would only deepen division.
Odd, that. The man who calls for a poll - Gerry Adams - is doing so in the teeth of polls suggesting it would be lost by nationalists/republicans. Why is that? Does he just want to put a re-united Ireland on the agenda? The man who’s opposed to a poll - Peter Robinson - is convinced it would be won with a spanking majority by Protestant + Catholic unionists. Why is that? Does he want to avoid eye-balling the gorilla in the room?
One teensy footnote: The Irish Times today also reports Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore as predicting that a ‘post-recession’ south will emerge by the end of this year. “I believe there is going to be a commitment and understanding in Europe that the EU needs a winner to come out of a bail-out programme. Ireland is the best placed to do that”.
So supposing he’s right and the south starts to recover. What implications for a border poll would that have, especially among the finances-fixated Catholics/nationalists? We live in interesting times.