Thursday 23 January 2020

Editorial: 'Unity must wait until we've got our priorities straight'

'Being "united" is not something that happens with the ticking of a box.' Stock photo: Depositphotos


With the last Christmas cracker snapped it just wouldn't be the season of goodwill without an old-fashioned family free-for-all.

Once the subject of a united Ireland is mentioned you can expect a goodly share of kinship to go up in smoke along with the blue flame over the plum pudding.

The ghosts of Christmases past come marching back to the beats of different drums.

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Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin tried to bring some clarity as to where his party stood, saying there would be no vote for Irish unity during his duration in office should he become Taoiseach.

A united Ireland is a legitimate aspiration. But the idea that the mere holding of a vote on the issue would somehow dissolve all differences between loyalists and nationalists is fatuous.

When Thomas Francis Meagher first flew his Tricolour over the Mall in Waterford in 1848, he gave parity of esteem to both traditions in its proportions and he had the wisdom and ingenuity to allow an appropriate space between.

He commented: "I trust that beneath its folds the hand of the protestant and the Irish Catholic may be clasped in generous and heroic friendship."

Since then, if those hands were clasped it was more often in the form of clenched fists.

Yes, we have come closer to narrowing the space between, but being "united" is not something that happens with the ticking of a box.

Trust, agreement, common ground and equality all need to be established first.

That is the real challenge for political leaders as opposed to mere opportunists.

The behaviour of the leading political parties in the North over the past three years shows how ill-prepared they are for any true meeting of hearts and minds.

This is big picture politics beyond the ghetto.

So far that degree of vision has been limited by tribal myopia. You cannot force harmony or coerce unity on a people.

The Good Friday Agreement is a route map towards a consensual sharing of power, but it too has been strained by one side or another striving to get the upper hand.

The politicisation of cultural issues and polarisation of public debate have driven sides further apart. In the North the political infrastructure is crumbling due to neglect.

In the south, urgent priorities also need addressing. As Mr Martin also noted there will be an implosion in our society if we don't deal with the housing challenge.

Young adults are being robbed of their autonomy in not being able to have a home; at the other end of the spectrum, elderly people are cheated of their dignity and security. Alone warns us this Christmas more aged clients than ever before are presenting seeking help having become homeless because of high rents.

North and south, we need to get our priorities straight first. Stampedes generally lose direction; what is important gets shunted aside in the ill-advised rush to achieve the ill-considered.

Irish Independent

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