Friday, March 17, 2017

Union or Reunion?


OUT-WORN heart, in a time out-worn,
Come clear of the nets of wrong and right;
Laugh, heart, again in the grey twilight,
Sigh, heart, again in the dew of the morn.
Your mother Eire is aways young,
Dew ever shining and twilight grey;
Though hope fall from you and love decay,
Burning in fires of a slanderous tongue.

(W. B. Yeats)

I think I have devoted more than enough space on this blog to a subject that is not exactly near and dear to my heart -- my Irish-Americanness. To me, there is no subject hoarier than the centuries-old story of Ireland's struggle for independence from England. Yet every year I have devoted a post on this date - St. Patrick's Day - to some matter touching on Ireland or Northern Ireland, whether it is a film (The Quiet Man, The Luck of the Irish, Omagh) or an item from the news. This time last year I commented on Gerry Adams, former IRA chief and current head of the Irish political party Sinn Fein (pronounced "Shin Fain"[1]) being denied entry to the White House St. Patrick's Day celebration. I don't recall that there was any follow-up to the story. Was it just an oversight? Or was Adams's name deliberately left off the guest list? I'd like to think it was the latter. But Gerry Adams is once again in the news, just in time for another St. Patrick's Day post.

Last summer I watched the referendum over Great Britain's membership in the European Union with disbelief. Like the Scottish Independence referendum before it, the outcome seemed to me utterly counterintuitive. No to gaining self-rule for the first time since 1707? And No to being a part of the same body that has managed to keep Europe at peace for seventy years?

But when Brexit became a reality the following day, and not a bad dream caused by an undigested "bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of an underdone potato", some people who were part of Great Britain, like the same Scotsmen who voted to remain in it, as well as the Northern Irish who suddenly realized it was no longer such a good thing not to belong in the Irish Republic (which, as a state independent of Great Britain since 1921, shall remain in the EU), began to visit - or re-visit - the advantages of breaking away from Great Britain. Who knows, but that Queen Elizabeth, who last year became the longest-reigning monarch in British history, might live to see not just the cross of St. Andrew struck from the Union Jack, but Orangemen of the six counties of Ulster making quite sure that the exit door doesn't hit them in the arse?

It appears that there is a slight chance that Irish nationalists may finally get through plebecite what they once thought could only be realized through violence: the reunion of Northern Ireland with the Republic of Ireland, with one government in Dublin. Avoidance of the economic downturn forecast for a Britain standing alone again outside of the EU may be incentive enough to persuade the Protestant Unionists in the North to exit Britain and remain in the EU. Unlike Scotland, who would have to apply for EU membership should they decide on independence, Ireland is already a member.

On Monday, Reuters reported the following: 

'Northern Ireland's largest Irish nationalist party Sinn Fein on Monday said it wanted a referendum on splitting from the United Kingdom "as soon as possible", hours after Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon demanded a new independence vote. Sinn Fein has been regularly calling for a vote for Northern Ireland to leave the UK and unite with the Republic of Ireland since Britain voted to leave the European Union last June while most voters in Northern Ireland voted to remain. 

Under a 1998 peace deal that ended 30 years of sectarian violence in the province, the British government can call a referendum if it appears likely a majority of those voting would seek to form part of a united Ireland. 

But Northern Ireland's Secretary of State James Brokenshire said in July last year that he did not believe the conditions for calling a referendum had been met. Opinion polls in the past have shown a majority of people in Northern Ireland want to remain part of the United Kingdom - in an IPSOS-MORI poll in September, only 22 percent of 1,000 voters questioned said they would support a united Ireland while 63 percent said they would prefer to remain part of the UK. 

However, there has been no poll in recent months and Sinn Fein saw a surge in its support at assembly elections a week ago. 

"Brexit will be a disaster for the economy, and a disaster for the people of Ireland. A referendum on Irish unity has to happen as soon a possible," Sinn Fein's leader in Northern Ireland Michelle O'Neill told reporters in Belfast ... Fifty-six percent of voters in Northern Ireland voted to remain in the European Union in June last year, but 52 percent of the United Kingdom as a whole voted to leave. The British government "are continuing to refuse to listen to the majority view and they are refusing to honour their commitments and agreements," O'Neill said ... O'Neill's comments come as British Prime Minister Theresa May is poised to launch the Brexit process, which is expected to have major implications for the economy of Northern Ireland which has close trade links to the Irish Republic, an EU member.'(2)

Could this possibly be the end of the long and (mostly) tedious history of British interference/influence in Ireland? Like most national struggles that have gone on for centuries, in which the goal has become indistinct, exhaustion may well be the deciding factor for the future of a united Ireland.

(1) Why are Irish names - that is, names written in the Irish language (a language I do not speak), like the writer Sean O'Faolain (pronounced O-Fay-lawn), transliterated into English so unsatisfactorily?
(2) "Sinn Fein wants vote on Northern Ireland leaving UK 'as soon as
possible'," by Ian Graham and Conor Humphries, Reuters March 13, 2017.

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