For some time, it has been a “given” that the people in the Irish Republic will vote for unification. Polling in support of that prospect is regularly around 60 to 65%. The prospect of a Sinn Féin led coalition government in the South from early 2025, has had nationalists excited that real momentum for change can come – giving teeth if you like, to the shared island department of the office of An Taoiseach.
However, there are increasing signs of “wobbles” on the previously assumed smooth road to unification in the South. The Irish Times/ARINS polling – much derided on Slugger for giving uncomfortable answers on a number of questions – points to a marked reluctance to make concessions to Northern Unionists to make a 32 county Ireland a place in which they would feel at ease.
The same poll and survey group, pointed to a lack of interface between North and South, with few in either jurisdiction having friends or relatives in the other. Many on Slugger commented the same could be said for interfaces between Dublin and Munster.
However the latest concern relates to the attitudes of younger people in the South. It’s the subject of an opinion piece this weekend in the Irish Times from the journalist Emma DeSouza. She cites a Sunday Times/Behaviour and Attitudes poll, which said that more than half of 18 to 24 year olds in the Republic “don’t understand the Troubles” and 1 in 4 don’t know whether they support he BGFA – presumably (though she doesn’t say so) because they haven’t given it much thought.
Ms DeSouza reports that the poll goes on to reveal no difference in the negative attitude of young people to concessions to Unionists in forming the model for the United Ireland as compared to the attitudes of older people. I think it’s this that gives her concern going forward. She wants them to know more or fears the “othering” of the North will become an impediment to change. She derides the education syllabus as giving only a fleeting mention of the BGFA at Junior Cert level. She wants the full text and “modules on how it has been implemented – or in many cases left unimplemented”) to be put before all students “not just those taking politically focused courses”. In my view this won’t go down well in education circles in the South.
Like many who support unification she wants to create a new Ireland – not just a merger of the North into the South. My own opinion is that the surveys show, the South is very unprepared for the unification debate. There are now two camps of opinion. Some believe it shouldn’t matter and the citizens of the Republic will vote in favour – and we can argue the detail later. Others like Ms DeSouza and myself (in a rare moment of agreement) want the debate on what a united Ireland should look like to happen first. Either way this age group holds the key to the future. Maybe they should be taught something about the past, first.
After a career of 27 years in railway management and 7 as a Non Exec NHS Trust Director, 2 of them as Vice Chair of Manchester Mental Health, Harper retired to West Donegal with his husband and two cats to grow fruit and veg. A former member of the GB Labour Party he served as a County Councillor and a Parliamentary candidate. He is a member and canvasser for Alliance but writes in a personal capacity.