Wednesday 22 May 2019

In the unionist world of 'No', Leo still hears a 'Yes'

Cartoonist: Jim Cogan
Cartoonist: Jim Cogan
Declan Lynch

Declan Lynch

The empty bottles of wine had not yet been taken to the recycling centres. The traditional stories of the first babies born in 2018 had barely been written. Indeed it was still technically Christmas, if you go by the 12 Days version - and there we were again, reading about the Taoiseach's vision of a United Ireland.

Or an "Agreed Ireland", as he called it this time, using the words of John Hume, looking forward to "a set of relationships that we can all be happy with".

But he wasn't letting go of the straight United Ireland either, pointing out that "our Constitution is clear on this. Our Constitution aspires to there being a United Ireland. I share that aspiration".

It is a line favoured by nationalists of the leafy suburban variety, "constitutional" nationalists, the kind of nationalists for whom there is no excuse, because they have had the benefit of an expensive education which was supposed to give them a heightened awareness of concepts such as intellectual dishonesty and pandering to the lowest instincts of the tribe and so forth.

Yes, of course the Taoiseach is "perfectly entitled to have an aspiration", they drone in that superior passive-aggressive way of theirs. Indeed Official Ireland, including much of its media, seems to be quite enjoying Leo in his posh patriot role, scorning the wretches of the Brit media who just don't understand that he's "only stating what is in the Constitution".

Ah, but if he keeps stating it, as he and Simon Coveney seem determined to do, it brings a certain energy to the matter. It takes it out of the realm of pious imagination, where it so rightly belongs, and gives the impression that - for some bizarre reason known only to themselves and to the worst elements of Irish life in general - they might actually want to do something about it.

Then, in case anyone thought this might be a bit provocative to the sort of people who are provoked by that sort of thing, Leo added that he aspires to this United Ireland "only on the basis that it is done by consent, and when it does come about, I would like to see it command a degree of cross-community support".

Now we have to assume that before he shares his visions on this subject, he and his advisers are giving the matter some thought.

We have to assume that they are trying to be precise in the wording of these statements. That Leo is not just going out there riffing about his dreams of a United Ireland, as if it was some minor aspect of the Licensing Laws that just needed a bit of tweaking.

I mean, you'd worry if he was just casually blathering about these things, like he was at a dinner party and everyone was getting a bit relaxed. But if indeed he is speaking with due care and attention to detail, then you'd worry even more.

Or at least you should, when you start to de-construct these lines, the first part of which has Leo achieving his vision "only on the basis that it is done by consent".

So when can we expect that consent to be forthcoming from the DUP and other like-minded folk in Northern Ireland - whose lives up until this point seem to have derived much of their meaning from the withholding of consent to a United Ireland, an Agreed Ireland, and any other form of Ireland that is formed in the mind of the Taoiseach of the day, for whatever reason?

When does Leo and indeed Simon suppose that this will change, this total lack of consent, or of anything that even resembles consent, or of anything that is related in any way whatsoever to consent, up to and including and beyond the eighth cousin 14 times removed of consent?

When is that going to happen, guys? I don't want to pin you down to an exact number, we don't want to be pedantic here - but you can ballpark it for me.

Would we be talking, say, 700 years? Would it be more like 1,000 years, if everything goes really well in the meantime and there are no more civil wars or 'Troubles' of the type we were enduring so recently in the broad sweep of our history it seems like it ended only last Tuesday week?

I know that you guys are more glass-half-full than some of us, and we respect that in you, and so I understand that you can be looking at various unionist leaders saying 'No' all the time to the slightest hint of the vaguest suggestion of your United Ireland. And in your endlessly upbeat way, when you hear them saying 'No', you believe that in some small part of them they must really mean 'Yes'.

Because they are really Irish at the back of it all, or something. Or because Brexit is throwing it all up in the air, anyway, and sure, there might not even be a United Kingdom for them to belong to, which is leading Coveney at least to believe that apparently everlasting and never-ending 'No', that world full of 'No', will somehow become a great big 'Yes' - and "within his political lifetime".

So on a clear day, he can see this happening in maybe seven years, rather than the 700 - or perhaps more realistically the 7,000 years that all known evidence so far tells us is the most accurate projection.

Having made that great leap of faith, Leo then brings a further clarity to his vision, by adding that "when it does come about, I would like to see it command a degree of cross-community support".

"When" is good here. Not "if" it comes about, but "when". Again, Leo and his advisers would have reached that fork in the road which required them to choose between "if" and "when". They went for the big one.

But as if to provide some darkly humorous kind of reassurance, Leo "would like to see it command a degree of cross-community support".

Well now, we'd all like that, wouldn't we ? But… and I know this is a long shot here… but what if it doesn't command that cross-community support? Even "a degree" of it - which is all that Leo is asking here?

He doesn't elaborate on this, perhaps because at that stage another vision materialises, which might be called "scenes reminiscent of those in the former Yugoslavia".

But they're not seeing any of that, Leo and Simon and their over-confident advisers. They seem pumped up with that old nationalist feeling that the unionists have simply got it wrong - that the day will surely dawn when they will see how ridiculous their position is, when they will realise what an eminently sensible arrangement the United Ireland is, and has been all the time.

Irish nationalists used to feel this even during those decades of the 20th Century when this Republic was a bankrupt theocracy with its own fully functioning gulag, while unionists daily savoured the glories of Britain's progressive Welfare State.

We have changed of course, we have modern guys like Leo now, running things. Maybe it's time to accept the things we cannot change.

Sunday Independent

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