Opinion

Saturday 19 October 2019

Ian O'Doherty: 'Calling for a United Ireland? Be careful what you wish for'

Mischievous: Tiernan upset some Unionists during sell-out shows in Belfast. Picture by David Conachy
Mischievous: Tiernan upset some Unionists during sell-out shows in Belfast. Picture by David Conachy
Ian O'Doherty

Ian O'Doherty

An interesting thing happened up North the other day.

Tommy Tiernan played three sold out gigs in Belfast's Ulster Hall and, as sometimes happens with his shows, some of the audience were rather less than impressed.

So disgruntled were they that a bunch of them walked out - I remain convinced that some people only go to comedy gigs so they can then storm out in a huff - and DUP councillor Dale Pankhurst was moved to announce that: "(I've) received numerous calls from Unionists who had to get up and leave the Ulster Hall due to comments made regarding contentious issues... some have asked for a PSNI investigation to be started."

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In many ways, that was just business as usual for the greatest, and most infuriating, Irish comedian since Dave Allen.

Whether it's pushing Catholic buttons on the Late Late or telling the Unionists, as he apparently did on Sunday night, to "f**k off to Israel", he is by turns brave, mischievous and deliberately offensive.

Tiernan has found himself in trouble before following comments he made about Israel, but the fact that people up the road actually thought that his jokes were worthy of police attention should remain fresh in the mind of those who have started to loudly call for a post-Brexit United Ireland.

Let's be honest for once, Northern Ireland is a foreign country and they do things differently up there.

That's not to say that they are any better or any worse than those of us in the Free State, they simply have a different way of looking at the world.

Do we really want to take on all that baggage?

One of the more striking lessons of the chaos that Brexit has wrought is the perils of voting for something without running through all the ramifications.

In the case of the UK's Brexit vote - and it was a democratically fair fight with one side the clear winner, in case any of us have forgotten that fact - we saw that voting with your heart rather than your head is a one-way ticket to mayhem.

It's also a sign of disordered thinking.

After all, while many of us can understand the principle of wanting your country to retain its own autonomy, have independent control over its borders, legal system and so forth, it has become horrifyingly clear that actions often have unintended consequences.

That is almost exactly the same predicament in which we find ourselves when confronted by the prospect of a united island.

In the 20 years since we voted to remove Articles 2&3 from our Constitution, and with it the 60-year-old territorial claim on Northern Ireland, things have improved beyond all recognition. Yet still, some people - but perhaps not as many as Sinn Féin would like to think - cling to the dangerous myth of the fourth green field.

The power of wishful thinking is again working strongly within these people because, rather like some of the Brexit voters, they have failed to do the most important thing - look at all the worst-case scenarios before you even begin to fantasise about the benefits.

It should also be remembered that in the two decades since we revoked those articles, both states have travelled wildly divergent paths.

For instance, in the years since that referendum in 1999, the Republic has voted for gay marriage and abortion.

From being a small country with our own repressively conservative past, we rapidly entered into an era of tolerance and socially liberal public policies which aren't just politically anathema to many of the 750,000 members of the Presbyterian, Methodist and Church of Ireland flocks, they are considered sinful and even demonic. How do we think such a large rump of religious and staunchly conservative people will feel about being subsumed into a liberal 32-county nation? The answer to that, of course, extremely badly - and that's before we even begin to predict how Loyalist paramilitaries, who are still active, will respond.

Like many Southerners, I have numerous friends from the North, as well as family who have lived there, and there are few places on this island more breathtakingly beautiful than the Antrim coast. The people, by and large, are friendly, warm and engaging.

But it is a very different society with very different values and it remains a far more cloistered statelet than the one we have become.

You only need to look at the number of DUP politicians who still believe in creationism.

It was only two years ago that DUP politician Trevor Buchanan called for such gibberish to be taught in all schools in the North, adding for good measure that: "I'm someone who believes in creationism and that the world was spoken into existence in six days by His power... children have been corrupted by the teaching of evolution."

Such an opinion is simply baffling and worthy of mockery down here, where even the most strident Catholic priest would baulk before saying such a thing. But it's simply par for the course for the DUP and their voters. So how the hell do we accommodate those views, which are deeply held by so many up there, in this new Hibernian heaven people seem so keen on? We can't.

We can get as misty eyed as we want about the prospect of reunification, but as our friends in the UK are discovering, you should always be careful what you wish for.

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