Could Brexit be the catalyst to finally unite Ireland

All signs point to a "no Brexit" exit from the EU for Great Britain. Opposition from conservative members to some of the major issues - including the prospect of a "hard" border between Northern Ireland the republic - will probably doom the vote to accept the Brexit agreement negotiated by Prime Minister Theresa May. Come March 29, Great Britain will be out of the EU whether there is a deal in place or not.

The proposed "backstop," which would allow time for a solution to be found to Northern Ireland's border, is unacceptable to many in the conservative party because it would trap Britain in the customs union until 2022. Inevitably, many experts think that in order for their to be a "soft" border between the two Irelands, there must be a hard border between Northern Ireland and Great Britain.

One possible solution would have been unthinkable a decade ago. Could Brexit be the catatlyst to finally unite the two Irelands?

Tradition and politics says no. But over the last 20 years, the mostly Catholic Republic of Ireland has become far more secular. Once one of the most Catholic countries in Europe, the republic changed the constitution in 1996 to allow for divorce, and just last year, a referendum changed the abortion law. Meanwhile, the Protestant north has lagged economically behind the republic as free market reforms instituted in the 1980s have made the Republic of Ireland an attractive spot for international business.

New York Sun:

While Northern Ireland burned, Ireland put through in the 1980s a series of supply-side tax reforms. That made the country an attractive base for multinational companies. As reported by the Belfast Times, Ireland’s output is today almost 45% higher than in the North. Average salaries are 30% higher. The North is plagued by weak underlying productivity.

Northern Ireland’s unionist-nationalist power sharing arrangement has failed to produce a functioning government. British taxpayers subsidize Northern Ireland with aid totalling 12 billion euros a year. That is nearly 50% more than the 8.6 billion annual bill for membership in the European Union. The British long to shed both these millstones. So why not give Northern Irish citizenry a push toward union with the South.

Which brings me back to Brexit. Some 56% of Northern voters joined only Scotland and Greater London among UK regions voting to remain in the EU. Recent polls suggest support for “Remain” in the province now exceeds 60%. Like the Irish Republic, the North sees its future as part of Europe. Full integration with the South would only grow the economy faster.

Certainly the narrowing of religious differences has made unification more of a possibility. But it is the prospect of faster economic growth in the North as a result of a union with the republic that might finally prove to be decisive. Northern Ireland, once a center of industry, has withered on the vine as industrial production has fallen victim to competition from abroad. But the information revolution and hi tech industries in the Irish Republic could be exactly what the north needs to jumpstart its economy. 

No one thinks it will be easy. But the two sides should be able to imagine a joint future, out from Great Britain's shadow and sharing the fruits from a market economy.

All signs point to a "no Brexit" exit from the EU for Great Britain. Opposition from conservative members to some of the major issues - including the prospect of a "hard" border between Northern Ireland the republic - will probably doom the vote to accept the Brexit agreement negotiated by Prime Minister Theresa May. Come March 29, Great Britain will be out of the EU whether there is a deal in place or not.

The proposed "backstop," which would allow time for a solution to be found to Northern Ireland's border, is unacceptable to many in the conservative party because it would trap Britain in the customs union until 2022. Inevitably, many experts think that in order for their to be a "soft" border between the two Irelands, there must be a hard border between Northern Ireland and Great Britain.

One possible solution would have been unthinkable a decade ago. Could Brexit be the catatlyst to finally unite the two Irelands?

Tradition and politics says no. But over the last 20 years, the mostly Catholic Republic of Ireland has become far more secular. Once one of the most Catholic countries in Europe, the republic changed the constitution in 1996 to allow for divorce, and just last year, a referendum changed the abortion law. Meanwhile, the Protestant north has lagged economically behind the republic as free market reforms instituted in the 1980s have made the Republic of Ireland an attractive spot for international business.

New York Sun:

While Northern Ireland burned, Ireland put through in the 1980s a series of supply-side tax reforms. That made the country an attractive base for multinational companies. As reported by the Belfast Times, Ireland’s output is today almost 45% higher than in the North. Average salaries are 30% higher. The North is plagued by weak underlying productivity.

Northern Ireland’s unionist-nationalist power sharing arrangement has failed to produce a functioning government. British taxpayers subsidize Northern Ireland with aid totalling 12 billion euros a year. That is nearly 50% more than the 8.6 billion annual bill for membership in the European Union. The British long to shed both these millstones. So why not give Northern Irish citizenry a push toward union with the South.

Which brings me back to Brexit. Some 56% of Northern voters joined only Scotland and Greater London among UK regions voting to remain in the EU. Recent polls suggest support for “Remain” in the province now exceeds 60%. Like the Irish Republic, the North sees its future as part of Europe. Full integration with the South would only grow the economy faster.

Certainly the narrowing of religious differences has made unification more of a possibility. But it is the prospect of faster economic growth in the North as a result of a union with the republic that might finally prove to be decisive. Northern Ireland, once a center of industry, has withered on the vine as industrial production has fallen victim to competition from abroad. But the information revolution and hi tech industries in the Irish Republic could be exactly what the north needs to jumpstart its economy. 

No one thinks it will be easy. But the two sides should be able to imagine a joint future, out from Great Britain's shadow and sharing the fruits from a market economy.