by Henry Hill
Wednesday, 17
November 2021
Idea
07:00

A united Ireland… within the United Kingdom?

A humble Kilkenny farmer has an ambitious vision
by Henry Hill
A loyalist band member on the annual Twelfth of July march. Credit: Getty

A Kilkenny farmer has launched an Irish Unionist Party, with the aim of bringing the entire island back into the United Kingdom. Tristan Morrow’s goal is apparently “to lay down roots now for an all-Ireland pro-union party in the event of Irish unity”.

While obviously silly, this touches on a fascinating and under-explored quandary: in the event that Northern Ireland does get annexed by the Republic (which beneath all the pretty language is what ‘Irish unity’ means), what happens to unionism?

Sinn Fein, and others who advocate for a 32-county Irish state, struggle to come up with a convincing answer to this question. I have written previously about how the most committed Irish nationalists are often those most averse to the sort of far-reaching change a genuine ‘shared Ireland’ would require. 

But Morrow’s project reminds us that unionists would face a similar dilemma. 

After all, ‘unionism’ is not just a regional cultural identity within Ireland. It is also an identity and ideology rooted in the value of the constitutional link to Great Britain — a link which absorption by the Republic would necessarily sever.

Should that day come, unionists in what is now Northern Ireland will have a choice. On the one hand, they can go down the ‘little Ulster’ route, focusing on securing protections for cultural symbols, festivals and so forth. Another, more ambitious, approach would be to use the process of building a ‘shared Ireland’, and their electoral position in any 32-county state, to try and make the case for that link with Britain on an island-wide basis. Brexit has, after all, demonstrated that our two countries are deeply entwined, for all that nationalists might wish it were otherwise.

Granted, if taken seriously such an approach probably doesn’t end up calling itself the Irish Unionist Party. A more plausible historical model might be the National League, an ‘Anglophile’ party that operated in the early years of the Free State. It didn’t advocate reunion, but stood for close links with the United Kingdom within the framework of the new Irish state. It was not founded by a Unionist but by William Redmond, who had sat as a Nationalist MP at Westminster before partition.

Such a party could potentially serve both to give the British population in Ireland a coherent political vehicle (important if they are to exercise any influence in Dublin) while having a message that could potentially win support outside the north-east, including Morrow’s native Kilkenny.

Nor is this question merely about the future. A unionism prepared to think ambitiously about winning converts in a 32-county state is also one more likely to reach out to Catholic voters in today’s Northern Ireland — and thus make a ‘united Ireland’ less likely.

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Matt M
Matt M
1 year ago

Obviously this is all pie-in-the-sky future gazing, but for fun you could imagine a united Ireland as part of an Anglophone Federation.

AUKUS could quite easily become CAUKUS if there is a change of PM in Canada. Maybe also NZ some day.

The new FTA with Oz has a 3 year working visa for under 35s as part of it. I could easily imagine this becoming full working age free movement in a few years. Also i suspect Canada and NZ will follow suit.

Eventually there will be an FTA between the US and the UK (they already have them with Can,Oz and NZ). Not a million miles from there to imagine free trade, free movement, intel sharing and military technology sharing between the US, UK, NZ, Oz and Canada.

A second Trump term and Macron’s new EU defence aspirations could deepen the gap between the EU and the Anglosphere. At that point Ireland might have to choose between its kith and kin in the US & Commonwealth Alliance or its current allies in the EU. At that point an all-Ireland Unionist party might come into its own.

As I say, not likely but you never know.

Last edited 1 year ago by Matt M
David Bowker
David Bowker
1 year ago

As the UK sails away from Europe westwards towards America and the EU edges towards fiscal union as its only means of surviving (and so destroys Ireland’s economic model), Ireland will start to question its membership of the EU. The Brits will then dangle a carrot – a united Ireland within some kind of UK.
There is no other way a united Ireland can happen. Forget about a vote in N Ireland to join the republic – history shows that votes are not the way things are resolved there. The loyalists will never agree and they will express their opposition forcefully.
Sounds fantastic? Fifty years ago the idea that a priest-ridden, backward, agricultural wasteland could turn into a modern, progressive and prosperous country would have been equally ludicrous.

Matt B
Matt B
1 year ago

For those of us with part-Irish catholic roots from 1800s emigration to the UK this may have a notional attraction. As for traction or reality in an island inextricably embedded in the EU, and wedded to political and economic union to become a de facto province – little chance. The men of violence and their political backers won’t have it, the EU will prevent it and history means that even the few friends left amomg the Irish public will shrink away. The many positive aspects of our shared history and CTA will be lost over time and written out of the record, whilst the negative sides likely will be funded and feted – and written in together with US hagiography. Our futures diverge: for the petty antagonisms and wilful misunderstandings from both sides likely to persist around this, read on in the comments.

Last edited 1 year ago by Matt B
George Knight
George Knight
1 year ago

If the Irish Republic became disenchanted with the EU I could imagine some kind of rapprochement over the next 50 or so years. Right now, I suspect that they are doing very nicely thank you being in the EU and employing very low corporation tax rates which has made their economy so successful. Though, I cannot ever imagine that the Republic would want to be part of the UK.

Francis MacGabhann
Francis MacGabhann
1 year ago

The problem would always be the same as it was before independence, the same problem Scotland and Wales — and, to an extent, even the north of England — face: in the UK as currently constituted, nothing counts outside of London. Even local parliaments haven’t really solved this. The only way I can see this idea working is if all four — or possibly, five, if NI is counted separately — were recognized as sovereign and co-equal and then entered a loose voluntary confederation with self-rule on most matters but a governing chamber at the unified level consisting of equal numbers from each country regardless of population, along the lines of the US senate. I don’t see the English going for that.

John Lee
John Lee
1 year ago

No, the UK needs less government not more.

Michael James
Michael James
1 year ago

Isn’t this what Home Rule meant?

David Simpson
David Simpson
1 year ago
Reply to  Michael James

Yeah, and look how well that worked – of course we left, fed up with being sneered at by stuck up Anglo Irish horse Protestants, and their cousins in England. That said, my grandpa, a GP in County Kerry, was a very keen Britophile, despite having cousins in the IRA – a lot of southern Irish wouldn’t mind being part of the United Kingdom, if the fekking English could get over themselves. Which probably goes for the Welsh and Scots as well.

Frances Mann
Frances Mann
1 year ago

Maybe it is not such an absurd idea.

Martin Terrell
Martin Terrell
1 year ago

If Ireland had opted for Home Rule it would have remained united and would be as independent as Canada or Australia. Is it still worth a try?

David Simpson
David Simpson
1 year ago
Reply to  Martin Terrell

I’m pretty sure the prods in the north scuppered that one, and look where it got them. Just like Pakistan and India and Bangladesh – identity politics effs everything

willy Daglish
willy Daglish
1 year ago

I hope he is well insured!
Sinn Fein’s murderers are probably already on their way.

Anthony Munnelly
Anthony Munnelly
1 year ago

Prior to Brexit, this could have had legs. Not very long legs, but some. It wouldn’t be laughed out of court. Post Brexit, it’s up there with the flying pigs I’m afraid.

Michael James
Michael James
1 year ago

One day Ireland might leave the European Union and restore its low rate of corporation tax. Then the UK could join Ireland — giving it three more provinces.

Last edited 1 year ago by Michael James
Fran Martinez
Fran Martinez
1 year ago

“Brexit has, after all, demonstrated that our two countries are deeply entwined”.
Are you talking about France and the UK?

Jon Hawksley
Jon Hawksley
1 year ago
Reply to  Fran Martinez

Entwined still. A report this week from our house in France
“I heard screams and a loud order – FIRE!, in english by the way, and then the hell broke loose – THE MACHINE GUNS !!! Right there, somewhere on the other side of the potager wall the army was playing war games….!!!
I did see some military vehicles down in the village, heard the helicopters, but was NOT expecting them right behind my back. Needless to say I got scared ………
Oh, yes, later in our bar I found out that they are having some military manoeuvres in the region, English army included, which would explain the order Fire and not Feu!”

Peter LR
Peter LR
1 year ago

I’ve always thought that ROI in a non-political trading partnership with UK could work. It depends on the EU staying together. Also depends on whether or not the EU screws them on Corporation Tax and other impositions. 40% of their trade is with US/UK. The Asian market is only 12% so room for expansion there. I assume the EU benefits are via the single market as it no longer has the land border. I’m sure it only joined the EU because the UK did.

Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
1 year ago
Reply to  Peter LR

We may have joined the EU (partly?) because the UK did but we’re not leaving! The EU has done great things for Ireland, not least letting us out from under the UKs low prices on Irish goods which kept us poor..

Michael Rawle
Michael Rawle
1 year ago

I can’t wait to read the editorial in the Skibbereen Eagle, when the ROI is required by Brussels to dispatch Slattery’s Mounted Fut to fight alongside the new EU army against the Rooshians in the Ukraine.

Ronnie Bradford
Ronnie Bradford
1 year ago

For many years in the 70’s an Enniskillen newspaper proudly bore the words in its banner “ a united Ireland, under the Crown”.

Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
1 year ago

You missed out the third, and obvious choice, that a small minority of Unionists will decide to opt for armed resistance. And the Irish Government won’t have the scale of defence forces to handle a couple of hundred of these people. And that’s why the Irish Government has never genuinely sought a United Ireland since the war.
However if Sinn Fein get voted into the Irish Government, they’ll seek unity – and hopefully the U.K. government will let them have it – and then we’re free and clear of it at last.

Last edited 1 year ago by Ian Stewart
bdphelan
bdphelan
1 year ago

On present showing Sinn Fein are on track to form a Govt here in the RoI (in the next GE), as well as taking over the position of First Minister in NI. Pressure for a Border Poll will build accordingly and Unionists will be considering their position even now. It’s by no means clear that a Border Poll within NI would produce a United Ireland automatically, since the old, tribal, lines will become blurred when self-interest is factored in. Similarly, in the RoI, the notion of absorbing even the smallest portion of a population against its cultural & political will is likely to give RoI voters considerable pause for thought – not to mention the challenge of taking on the UK’s legacy of NI’s socio-economic expectations. Neither the RoI nor NI could cope with the challenges presented by a purely poll-driven reunification right now and it’s a fantasy to suppose that any sort of ‘drift’ of time might get them closer either. Something like an Andorra or a Monaco might emerge in NI, eventually.

Tony Conrad
Tony Conrad
1 year ago

I don’t think it is just for fun. A united Ireland co-operating with Britain and not ruled by Britain as we were beginning to be ruled by the EU might be a great idea. It must be an agreement that benefits both parts of Ireland and giving a generous self rule to NI for their protection could work. These islands have a common language and history and could benefit from a unity that can stand up against the EU and their resentment against us leaving it. To add Northern Ireland must be allowed the rules put on them against their will recently by Britain regarding gay marriage and mass abortion.

David Simpson
David Simpson
1 year ago
Reply to  Tony Conrad

“To add Northern Ireland must be allowed the rules put on them against their will recently by Britain regarding gay marriage and mass abortion.”

Should this include “allowed [to reject] the rules]”?

Not ruled by is a very important qualification.

A genuinely federal United Kingdom is a great idea, if the English were able to allow it to happen

Philip Kettle
Philip Kettle
1 year ago

No one ever talks about the elephant in the room – the economy and currency. I admire strategic thinkers who can look ahead to potential unions, but to get there, means overcoming some pretty huge obstacles.

John Burleigh
John Burleigh
5 months ago

The W.I.S.E Motion and Notion. Dear Tristan (Morrow), I have been working on this idea longer than yourself but (great minds think alike) would like to add the benefits of a Federal United Kingdom that includes the acronym Wales, Ireland,(United) Scotland, England. The countries would be fully devolved and autonomous but have the federal capital in Westminster in London,
This would remove all the wasted energy spent on division and independence and the synergy of our common strengths would make the United Kingdom one of the greatest nations in the world. (again)
It would all take place with agreement through a democratic referendum set in all four countries by the ballot box.
The South of Ireland would leave the European Union but would be United with Northern Ireland followed by being United with United Kingdom with the common unions of
1. Currency (Sterling)
2. Defence
3. Monarchy ( Queen head of States
4. Individual nation flags with Union Jack representing UK
5. Fishery Policy
To be continued…
John Burleigh

Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
1 year ago

“A sprat to catch a mackerel” is a good old Cork phrase and this article is one of those.. or possible a spanner in tbe works?
But yes: there are serious points. As a ROI ‘protestant’ I have to report zero antagonism from RCs here (unlike the obverse in NI).. Indeed the very opposite. So the ROI has always been very accommodating in that way. Our first president after independence was Church of Ireland and CoI for its 3% has been way overrepresented in all spheres of life in my country: the complete opposite of the dreadful discrimination in NI at the hands of my fellow religionists. Shameful for nearly 100 years. That’s not easy to forget but we Irish move on better than most and we can do Reconciliation as well as anyone. We do have the Good Friday Agreement after all and may even keep it in place if that nice PM of yours and his really cooperative Lord Frozen don’t screw it up!
For me a Union of Celtic nations makes far more sense. Scotland, NI, ROI …and later Wales, Cornwall and Brittany even: okay, the latter a bit unlikely. But the inclusion of a backward looking and backward moving England? Eh, no thanks.
Our new Federation of Celtic States will be firmly in the EU thank you very much!

Last edited 1 year ago by Liam O'Mahony
John Lee
John Lee
1 year ago
Reply to  Liam O'Mahony

“We Irish move on better than most”. Are you kidding, this should read “We Irish hold a grudge for years better than most”.

Bogman Star
Bogman Star
1 year ago

Tristan Morrow? He considers it an outrage that parties in the S of Ireland are Irish and that none of them wish to dissolve their country. Does Ireland not have a treason act? Imagine an English party calling for unification with Germany in a new Greater Saxony, based on the fact that both countries are already ruled constitutionally by German monarchs. See how much tolerance that would get; any such English person doing that would need to go into hiding – and rightly so.
Prior to Brexit, most non-British people assumed that “England” and “the UK” / “Britain” were synonymous. For most of my life, most English people thought similarly. That was why, for instance, the English football team stands for the UK national anthem, even though they are not representing the whole of the UK. Unlike Scotland, or Wales, England never felt the need to have a separate English anthem. The mindset is that, primarily, the UK is England and England is the UK. It’s why England soccer fans wave UK flags. Scotland and Wales? Those pipsqueaks don’t matter. And that’s the essential problem with the “union”. It never was a union in the first place. Scotland’s place in the Union followed from Culloden, i.e., from a bloodbath by the English, followed by the “Highland Clearances”, which were essentially an early form of ethnic cleansing. Northern Ireland’s place in the “union” was ushered in at gunpoint, when Lloyd George told the Irish Treaty delegation that failure to accept partition would result in “immediate and terrible war”, at a time when the Irish were down to their last bullets. But even had the “union” been voluntary to begin with, it still would be deeply problematic for its smaller constituent members. Just as you can’t have a realistic “joint venture” between (1) Joe Bloggs & Nephew Keyboard Repair Services Limited and (2) Apple Inc; neither can you have a culturally functioning union between a mid-ranking global power such as England and 3 pipsqueak countries. Even when the English are well disposed towards the shrimps, which isn’t invariable might i add, the Celtic fringe countries will never amount to more than pimples on a large English backside.  Culturally, England is always going to dominate. In the past, the Statutes of Kilkenny, which criminalised the Irish language and Irish sports; but sheer cultural mass alone will have a similar effect. In a few generations, any smaller country united with England runs the risk of ceasing to exist, even as a discrete anthropological entity. Inevitably, the middles classes in any culture seek to ape the socially dominant classes in the culturally dominant country. Which is why, even today, large swathes of South Dublin Irish people speak with strangulated faux Home Counties accents and read only right-wing English newspapers. By contrast, inside the EU, there is much greater diversity of culture and more room for tiny countries to retain a distinct cultural identity. That is, while the gorillas of France, Germany, Spain and Italy etc are busy jostling each other, the small fry nations are left alone. No such dynamic would hold (or does hold) in an inherently-asymmetrical “union” between a large backside and 3 pimples, I’m afraid. 
That would haven been the case, even without Brexit.
But with Brexit, sadly, England is now plotting a very different course. One that, frankly, even though we continue to be very fond of the English (English humour and pop culture are much-loved parts of any Irish person’s culture – though the famed English distaste for extremism has taken a bit of a bashing with all the new-found Brexit purity zealotry, sadly), modern Ireland wants no part of. In fact, such are the divisions in English society about Brexit, it’s be more realistic to have a breakaway English region of Remainers join with Scotland and Ireland in the EU, and leave all the English Brexiters to a new, pure, Brexit Britain state, probably near Norfolk …

Graeme Laws
Graeme Laws
1 year ago
Reply to  Bogman Star

History a bit iffy. The crowns came together with James when Elizabeth I died. That was 1603. The Act of Union was 1707. Culloden was about whether the Catholic Stuarts should be back on the throne, which most Scots – Protestants – probably did not favour.

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
1 year ago
Reply to  Bogman Star

What a simplistic notion of British history, just about the level of ‘Braveheart’, with the ‘goody’ Celts and the ‘baddy’ Anglo Saxons! Quite how any reading of these in many ways rather similar peoples could possibly lead to that I don’t know, but some pro Celtic writers have verged on racism against the English.
Culloden was not a ‘massacre’ of the Scots by the English, more Scots were fighting on the Hanoverian side. There had been huge tensions between the ‘Highland’ Gaelic and Lowland Scots for centuries. Scotland was in fact more diverse ethnically than England, with several major groups comprising the nation, the Brythonnic Celts in Strathclyde, the Goidelic Celts (Scots / Gaels), the mysterious Picts, who may also have been British Celtic speaking, the Angles in Lothian and of course the Norse around the coasts and in Sutherland, Caithness and the islands.

Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
1 year ago
Reply to  Andrew Fisher

This is better than Bogman, and you could have thrown in that the clearances were conducted by the Scottish landowning gentry not the English.

Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
1 year ago
Reply to  Bogman Star

Dearie me your ignorance of Scottish historical events is outstanding. Not even worth debating it’s so poor.

John Lee
John Lee
1 year ago
Reply to  Bogman Star

What nonsense.

David Simpson
David Simpson
1 year ago
Reply to  Bogman Star

Large though Norfolk is, and pleasantly underpopulated, it’d have trouble fitting in 17 million people. Why not put you and the remainiacs on the Isle of Wight and give it a hefty shove towards your beloved land of milk and honey?