‘A united Ireland would be good for everyone’

In favour: Writers, such as Matthew Parris of the Times, are calling for it.

Should Ireland be united? The idea is gathering pace. And polls before tomorrow’s general election show a surge in support for Sinn Féin, a party with its sights set on reunification.

“There needs to be change.”

John Toomey is a factory worker from County Kerry in Ireland’s South West. For the first time in his life, he is voting for Sinn Féin.

“The health system is totally bonkers.”

John believes Sinn Féin is the only party offering action on key issues: healthcare, housing, climate change, and child poverty.

Polls suggest many agree.

This week, it was in the lead for the first time, ahead of Fine Gael (currently leading Ireland’s government) and Fionna Fáil, the two parties that have dominated Irish politics in the 20th Century.

Even a decade ago, this would have been unimaginable. Sinn Féin was a pariah party associated with the extreme violence of the IRA.

So what has changed people’s minds?

Originally founded in 1905, Sinn Féin has its roots in Irish republicanism and the struggle for independence from Britain. The name is Irish for “we ourselves”.

In the early 1900s, there was widespread support for Sinn Féin and Irish independence across southern Ireland, which was mainly Catholic.

However, there was fierce resistance from the predominantly Protestant population of Ulster in the North East, that wanted to remain a part of the UK.

Decades of conflict eventually led to the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921, which created the partition in place today.

During the time of the Troubles in Northern Ireland, Sinn Féin was the political voice of the IRA, which carried out numerous terrorist attacks as part of its continued fight for unification.

For many, particularly older voters, this is enough to disgrace them and their cause for ever. After the Good Friday Agreement finally brought the Troubles to an end, lots of people have had little appetite for rocking the boat.

Younger voters, however, are looking ahead – not backwards. They want to put the past behind them, and are attracted not only to Sinn Féin’s domestic policies but by its vision of a united nation.

“Everyone has a bad past,” said one young father from Dublin. “I’m looking forward to the future.”

So, almost 100 years after Ireland was split in two, is it time for it to come back together?

Friends reunited?

Many feel it’s time. Support for unification is especially high among the young and not tied solely to Sinn Féin. Recent surveys in Northern Ireland and the Republic have shown support, and the border in the Irish Sea created by Brexit will make a united Ireland increasingly unavoidable for economic reasons. As journalist Matthew Parris has suggested, “an all-island consciousness is developing”.

Don’t even think about it, warn others. Peace has been achieved after decades of bloody conflict – it is vital not to put that at risk by shaking things up and tapping into old divisions. What’s more, Northern Ireland receives huge financial benefits from being part of the UK – there’s no chance that the Republic of Ireland would want to pick up those costs.

You Decide

  1. Would you vote for the unification of Ireland?
  2. Should a history of political violence be ignored in favour of a party’s vision for the future?

Activities

  1. You are based in the Republic of Ireland. Imagine that a referendum on the unification of Ireland has been announced. In groups of four, research reasons why unification would be a good idea. Make a poster to convince people to vote in favour of it, using the five best reasons you can.
  2. Write a letter to your local Teachta Dála (Irish Member of Parliament) explaining why you believe Ireland should be united. Do some historical research to support your argument.

Some People Say...

“We were born into an unjust system. We are not prepared to grow old in it.”

Bernadette Devlin, Irish civil rights leader and former politician

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
The question of whether or not Ireland should be unified has been a source of conflict for over a hundred years. Both Ireland’s constitution (written in 1937) and the Good Friday Agreement (signed in 1998) give the people of Ireland and Northern Ireland the right to unification if a majority votes for it. The most recent polls suggest that two-thirds of people in Ireland and 51% of people in Northern Ireland are in favour.
What do we not know?
What the impact would be on old disagreements between Catholics and Protestants, Republicans and Unionists. (Confusingly, Unionists are those who want to be part of the UK, not those who want Ireland to be united.) We don’t know if unification would lead to new violence. It is also difficult to predict the effect of Brexit on Ireland, especially if a border is created in the Irish Sea. Finally, it is hard to know if unification would be positive or negative for the Irish economy.

Word Watch

Pariah
An outcast.
IRA
The Irish Republican Army. An organisation that used violence to pursue the goal of an independent, united Ireland.
Republicanism
The belief that the whole island of Ireland should be one independent country.
Ulster
A cluster of nine counties in the North West of Ireland. Six of these counties form Northern Ireland.
Partition
Dividing a country into two parts: in this case, into the Republic of Ireland (an independent nation) and Northern Ireland (part of the UK).
The Troubles
A conflict in Northern Ireland between Protestants, who wanted to remain part of the UK (Unionists), and Catholics, who wanted an independent, united Ireland (Republicans). It lasted from 1968-1998.
Sinn Féin
After the partition, Sinn Féin remained a political party in both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
Good Friday Agreement
An agreement which brought about the end of the Troubles.
Domestic policies
A government’s policies relating to issues within the country it governs.

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