“All the rhetoric. I have heard it for years. When I grew up it was Brits Out. That gets you nowhere. The persistence of identity politics, where a position on constitutional identity is judged to be of primary importance, hindering productive discussion about policy priorities or good governance, is a challenge we must also recognise.”
So said Mícheál Martin, the Taoiseach.
When it comes to the unity of this island are we finally to be governed by a grown up? And one, no less, from the republican party?
As an Irishman this is where I stand.
I think this country should be one political entity. I think the six counties sliced off in to that northern corner is an historical curio that makes little geographical, political or economic sense.
I think Northern Ireland was a rump state founded on bigotry, however much it may or may not have changed since.
This is a small island. It should be one State. That is the only thing that really makes any sense.
And I think if every section of the population on this island grew up a little we could achieve that.
So, yes, I do think we should have a United Ireland.
I also think it is way down the list of priorities.
Put it this way, I’d much rather live in a fairer, more just, more egalitarian Ireland with two different authorities than I ever would a united one.
I’m more than happy for those million or so northerners who define themselves as British to have that identity within its own structures if together the island as a whole is a place of justice and equality.
If northern republicans are treated as fair and equal citizens in whatever that authority is.
A hundred years on from the formation of Northern Ireland is it too much to hope that we could be a hundred years further on in our thinking?
Of course there are those who will be enraged at any hint of a ‘sell out.’ To them the Taoiseach’s words will be treachery.
In this way of thinking we owe nothing to the future, to the children here now and the children to come. Instead, we owe everything to the past.
But, surely, that makes no sense. I can truly honour those who fought for this State and who were willing to give the ultimate sacrifice for a nation they wanted to bring about.
I can accept the heroism of those who have gone before. I can and I do.
But I can do all that whilst still being wary of fanaticism.
I can do it and still be unconvinced by there only being a single version of the past.
I can do it and certainly not accept that past sacrifices mean there must be future sacrifices going on forever and ever.
That kind of thinking is a cult of death.
Because even at the most basic level the simple fact is that Northern Ireland has now existed for almost 100 years.
It is there.
Perhaps, sometime in the future, on some great day of agreement, it will meld into something else and Ireland will have a different shape.
In the meantime, though, there are lives to be led, and people to be housed, and a climate crisis, and racism, and future generations of Irish people who will hopefully escape the confines of green and orange, the straitjackets of the past.
We can have a few pints and get misty-eyed about the old songs and the bravery of generations we knew and what they went through.
We can remember. But we surely can’t wish that those to come should want to pick up guns again.
We can’t surely wish or expect that they should spend their lives fighting the battles of the past. Surely Covid has shown us what is more important.
Surely all of those Brexit flags and those Trump patriots have shown us the bankruptcy of such thinking.
What Mícheál Martin is saying about policy and governance is dull by comparison to a rousing rebel song but it is better.
It is more intelligent. It is a future.
All of Ireland’s anti-mask protests are now accompanied by the waving of tricolours.
Which is about right. That’s where that narrow view ends up. In make believe land. In an absence of thinking.
But we can put away our flags, can’t we?
And if we did wouldn’t we see the future more clearly?