Schrödinger’s Ireland – The current state of Unity, is it alive or dead?

“A United Ireland is Inevitable: Discuss”

I went to a debate in Omagh on this topic, hosted by Sinn Féin’s Barry McElduff, with an open mind, willing to be challenged and frankly, looking for a way to understand the rationale behind the United Ireland cause.

Most of what I know about partition, the Easter Rising and that era came from a trip to Kilmainham Jail a couple of years ago.  What I do know though is that this happened a long time ago. So what is the reasoning behind my peers wanting a United Ireland today?

The Omagh debate featured local politicians and activists including; Tom Buchanan (DUP MLA), John McCallister (Independent MLA) and Linda Ervine (Language Rights Activist).

Irish Unity 1

I consider myself pro-union, but flimsy on it.  I think NI should be part of the UK because the UK is a more powerful, richer and influential country than Ireland (subjective I know, but it is what it is). I don’t subscribe to the concept of nationalism (and despite this great article by William Ennis, being a ‘Unionist’ is, to me, just another form of nationalism).

For me, borders are arbitrary and the land I was born on has little if any influence on who I am. So why do republicans/nationalists seem to feel so differently? What’s the motivation? History? Heritage? Culture? And why do the self-appointed spokespeople for this ‘movement’ in actuality do very little to make it a reality?

Sinn Féin loves a good metaphor – Gerry Adams and his Trojan Horse, Bobby Storey and his Butterfly. But I’d argue that another metaphor is more apt. What if a United Ireland is Schrödinger’s Cat, of sorts.

Schrödinger’s famous thought experiment aimed at concretising a paradox of sub atomic physics. The eponymous cat is put into a sealed box with something that could kill it. But until you look inside you cannot know what fate has befallen it.  Till then the cat can be said to be both alive and dead.

It’s only the opening of the box that forces the story towards one final outcome or the other. To stretch the terms of the original paradox, the hidden Cat, like this hidden United Ireland, remains both in an optimal state and the worst possible state of being whilst the box remains unopened.

As long as nobody actually looks directly at the potential of a United Ireland, it can be supposed both to be the Shangri-La that its supporters dream it to be, and an unfeasible mess of a state that detractors paint it.

The comments from audience and speakers (at least those in support of a United Ireland) at the Omagh event felt both superficial and oddly passive: the Irish Language, UK exiting the EU and the problems for social and economic cross-border activity.

Why did nobody bring up issues of greater substance or consequence? Perhaps it is because nobody wants to open the box which contains the UI Cat? What, they may figure, if it is already dead?

I was and remain a barely-marked canvas. People like Barry McElduff and his assembly colleague Declan McAleer who were in the audience, could be reaching out to people like me who aren’t tied by blood and thunder to the union.

They could be the estate agent – show me around the property, explain what potential it has and help me see myself living in it. But they didn’t, and in general they and other would-be advocates, don’t.

The Sinn Féin political machine, for all its might and protests to the contrary, is not pushing this agenda seriously.

A potential referendum was brought up at the event, will it be called for? I don’t believe I’ll see one any time soon. For Sinn Féin’s part, what if they do successfully call one and it’s a resounding no?

What would Sinn Féin’s raison d’être be if a poll returned a derisory vote for their cause – 25%? 10%?

It’s an unknown – as long as the sabre rattling continues, “We want a United Ireland,” “We want a referendum,” they can score points with those they rile up on the subject, but calling a referendum is far too risky, for now at least.

When I Googled ‘what would a United Ireland look like’ or ‘what would a United Ireland be like,’ the first hit was this article of mine, a fictional retrospective from the future on what ‘happened’ following an Ireland reunification.

Such is the level of expert research undertaken on the realities and potential of a United Ireland, that Google directs you towards my own pseudo-futuristic-alternate-reality-satire piece.

I would have thought, in the 100 years since the Easter Rising, something substantial would have been written and hosted online that would be of higher prominence than some blogger riffing about a dystopian future…

There have been some materials, but even those aren’t free from the biased hands of Sinn Féin, as discovered by Pete Baker. If a United Ireland really is as, “grass being greener on the other side,” why are independent experts not clamouring for it?

Much has been written about the politics of fear, particularly here in Northern Ireland – when it comes to election time, the old adage of, “we need to secure the border,”/”a vote for us is a vote for reunification,” is the bread and butter for too many politicians and parties…

Changing that status quo would upset too many apple carts.

If Ireland does reunify, Sinn Féin risk losing control of power anywhere on the island – stepping into the shadows of Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil & the Labour Party – better to posture and pose than risk actually discovering what colour the grass is over there

Whilst the rest of us are busy getting on with life, Unionists and Nationalists are perpetually squaring up to each other outside of a nightclub, shouting for the bouncers to, “HOLD ME BACK, HOLD ME BACK,” knowing they’ll never really have to take a swing at each other and risk missing.

Overall, I left the Omagh debate with the thought that United Ireland, as a concept, is more of a religion than a constitutional issue – evidence isn’t needed, supporting documents are sketchy at best.

But despite everything, there is faith in a higher calling – and also, like religion, there is zealotry embedded firmly within the cause, those who have killed for the idea. All in the name of…. Heaven? The great After foretold by the Prophets?

Could a United Ireland happen? Undoubtedly, anything could happen with enough imagination.

But if nationalists want it to be taken seriously and not just be the elephant in the room of every single thing they (and indeed we) do, take a serious look – reality, logic, sense, research, research, research – present a well formed argument that could persuade a non-believer, one who hasn’t grown up in the Church of the United Ireland.

To continue the metaphor, I’m standing looking in Sinn Féin’s property agents window. I see the words ‘United Ireland’ written above a listing – there’s no picture, no description, no price, no terms and conditions, nothing.

But there are people standing behind me bowing down and worshipping the box. They seem convinced as if by faith that not only is the cat alive, but it’s thriving. Yet somehow fearful to ever press their luck by opening it up.


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