THE VETERAN civil rights leader Eamon McCann was interviewed by the BBC recently.
A lifelong socialist as well as a campaigner for justice for the Bloody Sunday atrocity in his home city of Derry, McCann was asked about the prospect of Irish unity.
He said that he was ‘not passionate’ about it ‘if it doesn’t mean change.’
It’s a fair enough point.
Any prospect of Irish unity over the next few years has to set out a vision of the type of society and economy that we can expect to result from it.
While there are lots of things wrong with Northern Ireland, the south has its share of problems too, with the cost of living and particularly housing crippling many ordinary families.
But without wishing to belittle these issues, the south has, for want of a better phrase, the ‘right’ economic problems.
Its economy is booming – consistently one of the fastest—growing in Europe — with huge structural advantages.
A smart, well—educated population. Competitive tax rates. Inward investment by some of the biggest technology and pharmaceutical companies in the world.
The issues with housing and living costs are generated by the economy overheating.
Successive Irish governments haven’t done enough to build the infrastructure to support a fast—growing economy – or to redistribute its rewards.
But these are problems that can be readily fixed.
Indeed, the next Irish government is going to be able to address these issues — with enough money to put Ireland on a firm footing for generations to come.
The UK, with a population of 67 million, took in €97 billion in corporation tax last year, the Irish Republic, with a population of just 5 million, brought in €23 billion – a figure that has trebled since 2015. Ireland is currently undergoing the sort of economic good fortune that any western country would kill for.
The government is currently running a budget surplus of €10 a year – with some estimates projecting the State might rake in €65 billion by 2026.
Indeed, the emerging debate in Dublin is whether the government should establish a sovereign wealth fund to manage its overflowing tax receipts.
This is what oil-rich countries do — save and invest during the good times on projects that have a long-term benefit for the nation.
Meanwhile, new international rules due to come into force in 2026, which set a floor of 15 per cent on corporate tax, will see the Irish tax-take increase still further – while keeping Ireland positioned as a low-tax destination for international investment.
At the moment, when it comes to the question of ‘paying for Northern Ireland,’ Dublin can do so out of loose change.
In which respect, the economic case for a united Ireland begins to write itself.
As a sluggish Britain stumbles along, lost in its post-Brexit malaise, the north gets the chance to become part of a much more dynamic, forward—thinking economy, generating the jobs, investment and opportunities that elude it while it remains part of the UK.
Figures from the Central Statistics Office showed that the Republic now has its highest employment figure ever, with 73.5 per cent of adults in work — a 4.9 per cent year-on-year increase and nearly 700,000 more people in work than a decade ago.
The south benefits from unity too, with its domestic market growing by a third, and making it less reliant on migrant workers.
So, Eamon is right: a united Ireland must be a better prospect for people in the north or south.
The good news is that with the right political choices, it can and will be.
Northern Ireland’s centenary isn’t worth marking
Of all the rows political rows that take place at Stormont, this is surely the most bizarre.
There is a request, led by the three unionist parties, that a statue be erected in the grounds to commemorate Northern Ireland’s centenary.
The obscure—sounding Assembly Commission, an all—party committee which adjudicates on these things, initially vetoed the idea back in 2021, with Sinn Fein saying it opposed any move ‘to celebrate partition.’
But when their representative left the committee and there was no assembly in place to nominate a successor, the rest of the commission decided to rush the proposal through.
The unionist parties – DUP, TUV and Ulster Unionists — jointly proposed to fund the project, promising that their MLAs would pick—up the bill and it would
‘not cost the public purse.’
Roll on six months.
Now they’ve changed their tune. Leaked correspondence with Stormont officials reveals that the same unionist leaders now expect the taxpayer to stump—up for the costs of erecting the stone.
They argue that officials have changed the location to the eastern side of Stormont — which is more expensive — so the taxpayer should ‘bear the balance costs.’
To the tune of £14,000.
Now, I don’t know if they’re using gold—leaf shovels to dig out the hole for the plinth, but that strikes me as excessive.
Notwithstanding the cost and who pays for it, the statue is ghastly.
It’s an atrocious, cheap—looking thing and deserves to be vetoed on the grounds of artistic taste.
No other Grade 1 listed building would allow something so epically dreadful to be placed in its vicinity.
Neither is the design sensitive towards Northern Ireland’s troubled centenary.
It is a celebration of partition — a blunt one at that – showing the six counties of Ulster carved out of the rest of Ireland.
The message is hardly subtle.
‘This is our place.’ With partition literally set in stone.
So why should nationalist taxpayers fund a unionist memorial – especially one that rubs their faces in it?
Perhaps unionist MLAs are unaware that the number of families in Northern Ireland reliant on foodbank parcels has risen by 194 per cent over the past couple of years?
Never mind the fact that Northern Ireland’s public services are collapsing because of the DUP’s boycott of the assembly.
They are clearly more bothered about what goes on outside Stormont than inside it.
If there is to be some sort of commemoration about Northern Ireland’s centenary — a dubious concept in itself — then it needs to reflect the miserable experience that Catholic—nationalists endured.
First, under five decades of unionist misrule, then another three decades of the Troubles, which came about as a direct consequence of Stormont’s abuses of power.
Then, throw in 25 years of stop—start politics since the Good Friday Agreement, with so many of Northern Ireland’s social and economic problems left unresolved.
When you load all that into the artistic brief, it doesn’t feel like this 50—30—20 century is much to celebrate at all.