Book Review by Rob Butler
Kevin Meagher: A United Ireland – Why Unification is Inevitable and how it will come about, Biteback Publishing, London. 2016
Written late in 2016, in the light of the Brexit vote, this book provides compelling reasons why the counties of Northern Ireland are destined to become part of the Republic. Although his name reveals his roots, Meagher writes as an Englishman, albeit unsparing in his criticism of British policies and cruel behaviour in its dealings with Ireland during the past century. Now a freelance journalist, he was a former special adviser to Shaun Woodward, the Northern Ireland Secretary from 2007-09.
The author provides a detailed analysis of the economic effects of a unification of Ireland. The consequences of Brexit pose particular difficulties for Northern Ireland, already dependent on the UK for its economic survival. The current level of subsidy provided is of the order of £9 billion annually, and with the not inconsequential deficit increases for Northern Ireland when it is forced to exit from the European Union, there will be additional imposts on the English taxpayer. It is little wonder that Northern Ireland voted 55.8% (Derry 78.3%) in favour of remaining in the EU, as being part of Europe is a major factor in maintenance of its trade levels.
This book outlines enormous advantages to the Northern Ireland economy should it merge with the Irish Republic after exit from the European Union. In a range of scenarios, it would appear that the increase in GDP by 2025, resulting from such a move, would be between €15.8 and €31.2 billion for the united Ireland, with around two thirds of the benefits being gained by the UK appendage. It is estimated that integration could also add a sizable boost in both economic output and incomes, especially in the North, in the first eight years. Of course, such a severance from the UK would also be of obvious economic advantage to the English taxpayer.
Apart from his examination of economic matters, Meagher also spends significant time in reviewing the attitudes of the various parties to such a transition. He considers that the UK has not been particularly interested in Northern Ireland in recent times and would probably not miss its loss, if this was to come about. The population of Northern Ireland is similar to that of Hampshire and its economy only some two thirds that of Greater Manchester. Unlike the situation of Scotland, heading for a second independence referendum, the UK does not depend on Northern Ireland for oil, gas or other resources.
It must also be remembered that Northern Ireland is the only part of the United Kingdom with a constitutional guarantee of transfer of sovereignty when and if the population so decides by a majority vote. There are already indications that such an outcome would be successful in the not too distant future. The changing demographics of Northern Ireland and voting shifts there make the popularity of a move for unification with the Republic inevitable. There will always be a hard core of dedicated Unionists but their influence is shrinking. For many who have traditionally been on the Unionist side, the spectre of unification with Ireland is not what it feared in the past as the Republic has also changed over the years, making it a more tolerant and secular society. The loss of trade with separation from the EU and the economic benefits of unification will make a powerful incentive in persuading the lukewarm. Perhaps the biggest question to be resolved might be the size of the welcome mat in the Republic where poll results showing attitudes to incorporation of the separated six counties are variable and are yet to be determined conclusively.
In discussing how unification might take place, the author sees the consequences of Brexit as being the prime mover. The disastrous effects of Brexit on the Northern Ireland economy would require additional budgetary supplementation from the UK at a level which is unlikely to be achieved. On the other hand, unification would provide continuation of its traditional trade opportunities in Europe, not to mention additional economic advantages from joining a growing economy with excellent trade prospects in the EU. Meagher notes the continuing dialogue between the UK and Ireland and regards this as very important in achieving a smooth transition when this point is reached.
The author has persuaded me that unification is inevitable before very long but will the people in the South be so persuaded?