h1

A Nation once again? – Part 3 lessons from abroad

October 22nd, 2018

In the final of three articles Alanbrooke looks at Irish affairs

There are numerous examples of states being put together in modern times.  The closest and probably most studied is Germany. It is almost at 30 years since the wall came down so there is quite a period to look at. The situation is also not that dissimilar to Ireland  – a larger more prosperous neighbour takes over its sizeable but smaller struggling neighbour.  How has Germany fared?

Unity is claimed  to have cost Germany something in the region of € 2 trillion. Much of that was spent on upgrading eastern infrastructure but a not insignificant amount was needed to pay for unemployment subsidies and social welfare as the economy adjusted. It’s hard not to see Northern Ireland needing a comparable level of support. 

Overall unity has been a success for Germany, though the benefits have flowed largely to the west rather than the east. The east despite heavy investment has seen its towns empty, its young people move west and a consequent drop in population. While unity has worked for Germany arguably this is less so for the east.

This divergence is showing up in the German political arena. The east now votes very differently to the west and backs more extreme parties in the AfD and Die Linke who currently account for nearly 50% of votes in the former DDR.

In an Irish context Ulster already starts from voting for extremes and if Germany is a pattern the extremes are more likely to consolidate their support.  Ireland as a whole would need to learn to live with views, and eventually governments , people in South Dublin would find abhorrent. 

Indeed one of the constants for countries stitched  together is they carry their scars. The USA is still digesting the legacy of the confederacy, Italy its North and South and the Irish Republic itself lives with politics from 1921.

The German model shows us  unity is expensive, you have to live with scars which will change the politics of country and while it can be successful it may not be successful for everyone. Behind the early optimism came a period when reality sunk in. 

The problems were more entrenched than people thought,  all those new voters had been sold a dream, and 50 years of living apart meant big gaps in a shared history. Germans overall think unity has been a good thing, but they are not without reservations on how it has played out.

Ultimately for  the RoI unity will be a heart  versus mind  matter.  Unfortunately for now while the heart is pulling the strings the mind appears to be sitting this round out. Varadkar and Coveney have been disasters for Irish relations with the British communities.

The hard work of Mary MacAleese and Enda Kenny to normalise relations with the UK has been put in to reverse gear. I struggle to see how winding up unionists you hope will be a sixth of your electorate makes much sense. Equally there has been little preparation of the Southern electorate for what they are being asked to take on economically, culturally or politically and the impact that will have on their daily life. 

It’s too early to say if Unity would work for Ireland, but  one thing is certain without adequate preparation it is a major risk for an otherwise comfortable, prosperous state. If the optimists are right they can learn from Germany and make it a success – but even Germany accepts it still has major problems. 

If the optimists are wrong the  model won’t be Germany but Italy where 150 years after the euphoria  of unification the prosperous regions wonder why the ever took on their curious countrymen in the Mezzogiorno with its alien customs, violence and shifty politicians.  Belfast, twinned with Leipzig  or Palermo ?

Alanbrooke

Alanbrooke is a longstanding poster on PB as well as a Northern Irishman.