Would it be plausible to solve the Irish Border issue by unifying Ireland?

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The Irish border seems to be the biggest obstacle to establishing an agreement on Brexit and we've seen considerable talk about hard and soft borders. There are two potential solutions that I have NOT seen discussed and I just want to float them here to see if there is any chance that either of them might present a possible solution. I expect both would be seen as somewhat "radical" in the sense of being a rather big step from the status quo but my knowledge of Ireland is far too meager for the reasons to be obvious to me.

Solution 1: Have Northern Ireland merge with the Irish Republic so that the entire island is the Irish Republic. In that scenario, ALL of Ireland would be in the EU and the Irish border would disappear. Great Britain, comprising England, Scotland and Wales, would be free to leave the EU and Ireland could stay in the EU.

Solution 2: Have all of Ireland join the UK on the same basis as England, Scotland and Wales. All of the enlarged UK could then leave the EU together. (Mind you, I could imagine this giving a lot of ammunition to the people who want a second referendum and if that happened, perhaps Brexit would be abandoned and the enlarged UK would remain in the EU after all. After all, the people in the Irish Republic could rightfully say that they weren't even consulted about Brexit.)

I'd be very curious to know whether a reunification of Ireland - either as a single Republic or as part of the UK - is even imaginable or are the differences still so strong that it's unthinkable? From what I hear, the inter-Irish border is all but invisible since the Troubles ended and the two parts of the island get along fine. I also sense that the Catholic and Protestant Churches are far less influential than they were; after all, the Republic even permits abortion now, something that was unthinkable just a few years ago. The violence has either stopped entirely or declined a very great deal. The current prime minister in the Republic is apparently gay and only half-Irish, another sign that attitudes in the Republic have greatly changed.

Could Protestants in the North be comfortable in an enlarged Republic? Would they need certain safeguards to even consider such a move? I would certainly not want to make any such move with the consent of a majority of those in Northern Ireland.

Henry

Posted 2019-01-26T01:45:28.923

Reputation: 271

1There are a lot of similar questions in [tag:northern-ireland]. – Martin Schröder – 2019-01-26T13:48:42.923

26I just read a news article about an English politician suggesting that the republic leave the EU and rejoin the UK. The article asserted that polls show 92% of the republic's citizens (or residents, with that figure it doesn't matter which) in favor of its membership in the EU. For an English politician to suggest that Ireland rejoin the UK is hopelessly arrogant and ignorant of both current political sentiment and Irish history. – phoog – 2019-01-26T21:35:06.890

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See https://politics.stackexchange.com/a/34470/13141 for a short explanation of the relevant history.

– Paul Johnson – 2019-01-27T15:02:47.747

4"the inter-Irish border is all but invisible since the Troubles ended and the two parts of the island get along fine." In some ways that's true. But you go on to say that "the Republic even permits abortion now" and I should point out that (despite what you might assume, with it being part of the UK) Northern Ireland does not currently permit abortion. – owjburnham – 2019-01-27T18:04:44.580

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@Henry - 'the two parts of the island get along fine' - Northern Ireland is still a deeply divided society and however democratically obtained, a united Ireland would almost certainly lead to extensive bloodshed:- https://www.irishtimes.com/news/ireland/irish-news/two-tribes-a-divided-northern-ireland-1.3030921

– Dave Gremlin – 2019-01-30T13:55:37.407

The majority of NI voted Remain, so the second option is kind of ridiculous.. – Mahmoud Al-Qudsi – 2019-08-28T00:33:48.577

"Unite the clans!" Okay, that was Braveheart, but it's not like saying "Scots, Irish... whatever" would make it less historically accurate. – PoloHoleSet – 2019-09-19T15:32:14.797

My idea: NI becomes part of both, the UK and the Republic of Ireland at the same time. Citizens get two passports. There are borders on both sides but very soft ones. Simple and problem solved. – Trilarion – 2019-09-26T22:04:44.773

Answers

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Solution 1: Have Northern Ireland merge with the Irish Republic so that the entire island is the Irish Republic. In that scenario, ALL of Ireland would be in the EU and the Irish border would disappear. Great Britain, comprising England, Scotland and Wales, would be free to leave the EU and Ireland could stay in the EU.

This is possible under the Good Friday Agreement known as 'United Ireland', however, it requires a majority of the people of Northern Ireland express this democratically (e.g. according to article 3.1 of the Constitution of Ireland). For more information on the Irish reunification procedure, see this article by thejournal.ie.

Personally, I think it is possible that this might happen in the long term, but then I'm thinking multiple years. It's also not something that the UK can easily ask for to extend the article 50 deadline because it requires asking what the people of Northern Ireland want. If they want to stay part of the UK, this isn't a solution.

Furthermore, the UK sees Northern Ireland as part of its territory, so it won't want to give it up just like that.

Solution 2: Have all of Ireland join the UK on the same basis as England, Scotland and Wales. All of the enlarged UK could then leave the EU together. (Mind you, I could imagine this giving a lot of ammunition to the people who want a second referendum and if that happened, perhaps Brexit would be abandoned and the enlarged UK would remain in the EU after all. After all, the people in the Irish Republic could rightfully say that they weren't even consulted about Brexit.)

Obviously, the Irish people won't agree with this. The UK has no right to take Ireland out and Ireland will not be persuaded to leave the EU on its own.

According to the Wikipedia page titled Euroscepticism in the Republic of Ireland:

Euroscepticism is a minority view in Ireland, with opinion polls between 2016 and 2018 indicating upwards of 90% support for continued membership of the European Union (EU).

JJJ

Posted 2019-01-26T01:45:28.923

Reputation: 26 015

2The DUP, who hold 10 of NI's seats in parliament, are absolutely opposed to NI joining the Irish Republic. Nothing will change their minds on this, and they supply the government's majority, so that idea is a non-starter. – John Dallman – 2019-01-26T09:44:01.137

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@JohnDallman yea, and I bet the *Conservative and Unionist Party* wouldn't want that either, and they have many more seats. ;)

– JJJ – 2019-01-26T09:54:04.310

1@JJJ: and yet it’s that very same Conservative and Unionist Party who permitted Scotland to hold a referendum on independence... – eggyal – 2019-01-27T05:39:44.057

3@eggyal tell me about it, they even did a referendum to leave the European Union, I mean, who does that? – JJJ – 2019-01-27T05:47:18.900

4@eggyal they had that referendum because they predicted a win by a wide enough margin that it would slow Scottish nationalism, which it seemed to do up to the Brexit referendum – Caleth – 2019-01-28T10:26:41.607

1@Caleth: much like Cameron thought he’d win the EU referendum by a wide enough margin to slow Brexit “nationalism”? – eggyal – 2019-01-28T10:46:06.773

2@eggyal not to slow nationalism but to make sure he'd win the election. He was afraid people would otherwise be going to UKIP. – JJJ – 2019-01-28T10:46:57.460

2@Caleth this is the thing that I regard as an extraordinary miscalculation or piece of arrogance; it looks like the Conservatives interpreted an extremely narrow win on historic huge turnout as a success, despite the polls moving over time in a pro-independence direction. – pjc50 – 2019-01-28T16:54:38.873

@pjc50 On the other hand, only 4 of 32 councils (or 12 of 59 parliamentary constituencies) voted in favour of leaving - so, looking at it from a perspective of going into the 2015 General Election, it was a success. Unfortunately for them, they then got complacent (as did the Labour party), and the SNP realised that they really needed to step up their game - resulting in the SNP managing to scrape victory in 50 additional seats, giving them all but 3 of the Scottish constituencies. (I say "scrape" because, for example, in Glasgow North East they won with less than 40% of the votes) – Chronocidal – 2019-06-12T07:51:30.343

I don't think the SNP "stepped up" after the Indyref, that doesn't make any sense and doesn't match my personal recollection. They did start running a lot more Westminster candidates, resulting in that astonishing victory which really shows the flaws of the FPTP system. I fully expect that in the next English Westminster election more than half of the seats will have less than 40% of the votes cast going to the winning party. – pjc50 – 2019-06-12T12:04:03.643

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The first solution wouldn't work because a majority of Northern Ireland does not want to join the Republic of Ireland.

The second solution is even less likely to work because although it's been suggested, roughly 90% of Ireland does not want to rejoin the UK.

Allure

Posted 2019-01-26T01:45:28.923

Reputation: 13 239

1

1973 was a long time ago. Just for comparison, in 1975 the UK voted to join the common market by 67% and in 2016 they voted to leave by 52%. Specifically, there will be many new voters and a lot of the old ones will have died. And over time people may have changed their minds as well.

– JJJ – 2019-09-19T07:46:57.667

2@JJJ put in a more recent source, which comes to roughly the same conclusion. – Allure – 2019-09-19T08:19:59.887

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On the contrary, it is far from clear whether the majority in NI don't want to join the Republic. The most recent poll is reported in this post titled: "My Northern Ireland Survey finds the Union on a Knife Edge. This was within the last month at the time this question was posted.

– matt_black – 2019-09-19T15:23:49.240

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Nothing in Northern Ireland politics can be understood without taking a big step back and looking at the history of the island of Ireland at least in the 20th century but probably going back to the 16th.

In short, Ireland was England’s first colony and they had a difficult relationship. The Irish were mostly catholic while settlers from Great Britain were mostly protestant which is why a lot of issues seem to follow a catholic/protestant separator. Those descending from Great Britain are and were usually and mostly in favour of remaining part of the UK while the original inhabitants are and were usually and mostly in favour of being independent.

In the early 20th century, the Irish revolution happened and most of the island with a predominantly catholic population ceded from the United Kingdom to form the Irish Free State, Republic of Ireland or whichever title it had at various points in time. The north-eastern counties, however, remained part of the United Kingdom as they had significant protestant and unionist (supporting the union) populations. Initially, Ireland was still considered a dominion and part of the British Empire but in 1948 at the latest Ireland became fully independent when the British monarch lost all remaining powers they had over the island’s southern and western part.

The Irish Republican Army or IRA (which sounds like a single entity but Wikipedia lists a number of divisions and recreations) never accepted the initial status of Ireland as a dominion and part of the British Empire and desired for the entire island to become independent. In the second half of the 20th century, when the independence of the Republic was firmly established they turned to extending its control to the north-eastern counties known collectively as Northern Ireland. This resulted in a period known as the Troubles with more or less warfare in Northern Ireland and terrorist attacks across other parts of the British Isles. The Troubles are considered to have ended in 1998 with the Good Friday Agreement which of itself has a number of consequences for the question.

After that extremely brief overview of the history of the island, one point becomes clear: Ireland is exceedingly unlikely to rejoin the United Kingdom. This is not what the island’s population had fought for and there are no significant public voices expressing that option except in the UK. That rules out solution 2 and probably for a very, very long time (centuries timeframe).

What about solution 1? As I have outlined, there is a certain level of support within Northern Ireland—mainly amongst the catholic population—and certainly support in the Republic. The problem here lies in the other part of the Northern Irish population and certain people in Great Britain. For example, the currently ruling party in the UK is the Conservative and Unionist party—the Unionist bit shows how unlikely they are to cede Northern Ireland. At the time of the question, they were supported to gain a majority in the Commons by the Democratic Unionist Party of Northern Ireland which runs on a clear pro-Union (as in UK) ticket. It may be noted that other parties represented in the Commons are less emphatic on the matter (and there is Sinn Fein that wins seats on a reunified Ireland ticket but also refuses to swear allegiance to the Queen (absentionist ticket) and is thus not represented at Westminster). On the other hand, Northern Irish cession would probably be grudgingly accepted by most political actors in the UK assuming it happens democratically.

Thus, we can sum up as follows:

  • solution 1: possible but not desired by about half of Northern Ireland and thus unlikely
  • solution 2: exceedingly unlikely given the Irish history

As an aside, Unionists will tend to have less of a problem with a hard border because their allegiance is with London.

Jan

Posted 2019-01-26T01:45:28.923

Reputation: 8 390

2

The existing answers are good, but I think a more concise answer is possible.

It should be kept in mind that the reason Ireland is divided is

  1. The entire island used to be a constituent country of the UK.

  2. There was a war for independence of Ireland from the UK.

  3. Some people in Ireland, including most in what became Northern Ireland, did not want independence.

  4. The political solution led to partition as a compromise.

The current situation led to the end of the war, but did not end the violence completely.

Yes, unifying all of Ireland would eliminate the border problem, but it would renew the problem that led to partition in the first place, which was disagreement about the the status of Ireland. In that regard, it would be a step back. Other answers explain why it is not politically plausible today.

Such disagreement has the potential to engender even more violence than would a customs border between the two parts of the island. It would be a case of the cure being worse than the disease.

phoog

Posted 2019-01-26T01:45:28.923

Reputation: 9 434

I like this answer. Your language seem to suggest that Irish unification is an extremely difficult process, perhaps violence in some form or the other is inevitable? Some really superb solution is needed for the Protestant community in NI. Your emphasis is enlightening that here the cure would be worse than the disease. But imagine that Unionists come to a peaceful agreement to unite NI with RoI. I said imagine, so let's really suppose that, okay? Now the border issue is solved without doubt due to this magical and peaceful agreement. Okay? (1/4) – Jay Shah – 2020-09-20T18:54:11.610

Now the Good Friday Agreement states that in any event, people of Northern Ireland will be allowed to choose their nationality as Irish or British or both regardless of the future status of NI joining RoI or remaining in the UK. All this context, history and the GFA language suggests that the heart of the problem lies in Northern Ireland. Free movement and hence the CTA was introduced for the loyalist people of Northern Ireland and the Nationalist people of NI, who could hence travel in either country they considered "theirs". (2/4) – Jay Shah – 2020-09-20T18:54:36.070

Since it was impossible to force anyone to leave NI if they didn't like its status, the UK and Irish govts agreed that NI people can get both nationalities and can hence travel in either country they consider as "theirs". Please tell me if this understanding is right or not. If this understanding is more or less right, then I have a question: (3/4) – Jay Shah – 2020-09-20T18:57:40.733

If all this settled things, then why were the people who were happy to become fully sovereign and independent (I am talking about the Irish Republic) given access to healthcare, education, home student status, access to social benefits like housing or unemployment in the UK? Why were British citizens who had no connection to Ireland given the same things reciprocally in Ireland? Why do these 2 countries treat each other as if they are a single country? (4/4; but I have to include more...) – Jay Shah – 2020-09-20T19:01:27.610

What is a country? It is a political area where people considered to be citizens are treated equally against foreigners. But the Irish are not treated as foreigners in UK. British are not treated foreigners in RoI. Why so? Why the special status? I have tried to ask this question here (that has received tremendous activity) but people always direct me to the fact that "there is a shared history hence the special status". That is vague for me honestly.

– Jay Shah – 2020-09-20T19:05:08.780

Even Australia is filled with people who were originally pure British. But Oz does not receive this status. I know there are oceans between them, but I am sure planes and ships existed in those times. Why exactly are Irish citizens not foreigners in UK law and vice versa? (I know Ireland and UK recognise each other as independent; I am asking about the free movement, healthcare etc. part) If NI people are offered choice of their citizenships, the whole problem is solved. Why are free movement rights given to people who are not really bothered (that is people in the Irish republic and the UK)? – Jay Shah – 2020-09-20T19:13:53.673

I am expecting and strongly hoping an answer from you because I know how meaningful answers and comments you provide on various stackexchange websites. There is one single question here, and that is Why are free movement, access to education, healthcare, social benefits etc rights given to people who are not really bothered (that is people in the Irish republic and the UK)? Offering citizenship of choice to NI people was the simple solution. Why the extra step of treating people from UK and RoI as the same for social benefits and free movement purposes? You can also check out the link above – Jay Shah – 2020-09-20T19:16:44.620

1@JayShah Australians were British subjects at the time of Irish independence. But Australia was never an integral part of the UK but a colony, and no part sought to remain dependent on the UK. The history of Australia's independence from the UK is quite different from that of Ireland. – phoog – 2020-09-20T19:24:44.160

I understand that. Australia was just an example that "shared history" was a vague point. I agree Australia was merely a colony. – Jay Shah – 2020-09-20T19:26:31.127

@JayShah Where does this answer use the phrase "shared history" (vaguely or otherwise)? I am not saying that any shared history could be the cause, but that the specific history of the two countries is the cause. – phoog – 2020-09-20T19:43:24.380

It is in the first line: "But as a result of shared history..." – Jay Shah – 2020-09-20T19:45:29.633

You can also find in James's answer: "The UK chose to allow free movement as a result of the historic close connections..." I thought that Free Movement (the CTA) was because of Northern Ireland issue/dilemma. – Jay Shah – 2020-09-20T19:48:19.353

@JayShah what are you talking about? I do not see the phrase "as a result" anywhere on this page other than your two preceding comments. The same is true of "shared history": I do not find that phrase in any answer on this page. The first two lines of this answer are "The existing answers are good, but I think a more concise answer is possible. It should be kept in mind that the reason Ireland is divided is ..." – phoog – 2020-09-20T19:53:47.133

Oh, there is a big misunderstanding I am sorry. "Shared history" is mentioned in James's answer not here. Not on this page, the page I provided the link to. I am extremely sorry for this. – Jay Shah – 2020-09-20T19:55:37.603

You can answer whenever you like so don't feel obliged to answer too soon. I just wanted to share one more thing. Look at this. I have never seen such reciprocal rights between 2 countries on the entire planet. (apart from the EU obviously) But the rights and privileges are even stronger than the EU ones. This is why I wonder why Irish have such special status (as if they were UK citizens) in UK law like healthcare or free movement (as if it were their own country)?

– Jay Shah – 2020-09-20T20:25:32.803