On Saturday morning I followed with interest a debate in which the SDLP (represented as ever by Claire Hanna) and Sinn Féin joined other parties to call for an “all-island forum” on “Brexit”.
I have wondered before on these pages why they keep “calling” for one. Why not just set one up?
Well, probably because it would be a pointless talking shop, as the actual actors will be the UK Government and the European Council. And therein lies Nationalism’s problem (perhaps explaining its dramatic decline at the polls) – it is all talk.
Sinn Féin as ever took the opportunity to call (there’s that word again) for a “debate” on Irish unity. Why not then put forward some proposals to debate, then?
In an attempt to suggest Sinn Féin was failing to progress us towards Irish unity, the SDLP then proposed there should be “Northern TDs”, using “France” as a model. Except they would be “non-voting” another activist added, leaving one to wonder what the precise practical benefit would be given there are already Northern Senators in the Oireachtas (Irish Parliament). France of course allows overseas voters of French nationality – this would equate to Irish-American Dáil members, for example. Italy does this too. Most republics don’t, however, focusing instead on allowing citizens abroad to vote for President. Nationalists in Ireland like to “call” for that too – but yet again we are waiting for a practical plan to deliver it.
What is most interesting about all of this is that the whole discussion is focuses solely within the political bubble. What is the precise practical benefit of this North-Southery, beyond a few salaries for politicians?
I am not a Nationalist and I think it is time people recognised that Northern Ireland is a fundamentally different country – a century apart has seen experiences of the Great Depression, World War, rationing, the Troubles, the Celtic Tiger and the bust; and many other things fundamentally differ in each jurisdiction. However, I can think of a vast range of areas where North-South co-operation could be improved for practical benefit:
– Health, for relatively rare conditions (this is beginning to happen, but a cross-border body to coordinate it, ensure adequate matching qualifications, and oversee relevant capital projects would do no harm);
– Aviation (a few months ago I proposed here the devolution of aviation policy to Northern Ireland to be placed with a cross-border body, securing zero Air Passenger Duty and some say over Dublin Airport from a Northern perspective for mutual benefit);
– Customs (we should perhaps look, particularly post-Brexit, at whether an arrangement can be secured to ensure customs controls are at entry to the island and not within it, either through the British-Irish intergovernmental conference or a cross-border body); and
– Broadcasting (essentially, could the whole of Ireland be brought within the same regulatory framework as the UK/Isle of Man/Channel Islands to ensure no broadcast blackouts across the border and cross-border access to relevant online/casting services?)
There, a raft of ideas of practical benefit with some notion of how they would be delivered in practice. Any chance of Nationalists actually doing anything to help deliver on them?!