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Real debate on implications of Irish unity must be faced 

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'It truly is high time we talked about the risks and benefits of a United Ireland': Photo: Aidan O'Reilly

'It truly is high time we talked about the risks and benefits of a United Ireland': Photo: Aidan O'Reilly

'It truly is high time we talked about the risks and benefits of a United Ireland': Photo: Aidan O'Reilly

The ill-starred Russian revolutionary, Leon Trotsky, is purported to have said: "You may not be interested in war, but war is interested in you,” That is a brutal reality for which the bereaved families and friends of the 3,600 people who died in the North’s “Troubles” – a war in all but name – paid dearly to learn about.

These days, as you meet the day-to-day demands of life in what is hopefully the beginning of the end of a Covid-19 pandemic, the future of partition in Ireland may not even be on your list of concerns.

Yet the Trotsky maxim can be rendered here also: you may not be interested in questions surrounding Irish unity. But it is an issue we will find hard to ignore from this on. The prospect of a “border poll” on the future of Northern Ireland now looms large and the doubt is only about when this will happen.

For the past three days this newspaper has run the results of a comprehensive survey carried out by Kantar on both sides of the border. It has raised many interesting findings – perhaps the biggest of which is that we have so many issues to work through on the practical consequences of any form of Irish unity.

We face another week of “significant dates” about Ireland, starting today, May 3, which is deemed the actual date of the foundation of Northern Ireland when the legislation by the London parliament took effect. Fittingly, that date is of itself a matter of contention, with up to a dozen other dates in the mix for that title, not least June 22. That was the date in 1921 Britain’s King George V opened the North’s parliament at Belfast City Hall, with placatory words which also presaged a truce in Ireland’s War of Independence a month later.

Later this week, on Wednesday May 5, nationalists will mark the 40th anniversary of the death of hunger striker and MP, Bobby Sands. This marked the real beginning of Sinn Féin’s long and very slow march to politics while keeping an option on violence “with a ballot box in one hand and an armalite in the other”.

Since June 23, 2016, when UK voters’ decision to quit the European Union burst on an unsuspecting world, the constitutional future of both adjacent islands of Ireland and Britain has opened to the prospect of real change. On Thursday Welsh and Scottish voters choose the members of their home-rule parliaments in Cardiff and Edinburgh.

The outcomes, especially in Scotland, will have a real bearing on Ireland. A second referendum on Scottish independence will be hard to resist after next weekend as a majority of independence supporters is expected to be returned. Should Scotland opt to leave the United Kingdom, the fallout for Northern Ireland, with its strong interpersonal and emotional Scottish links would be considerable.

So, it truly is high time we talked about the risks and benefits of a United Ireland which will mean real change to our day-to-day lives. The issues involved must be debated at every level of Irish society and with our neighbours in Scotland, Wales and England as well as our friends across the European Union and further afield in the United States, Canada, New Zealand, Australia and elsewhere.

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