The LawSoc debate on a United Ireland covered the well worn debates for and against the reunification of Ireland, but still managed to remain exciting with its animated clashes, and in depth discussion of the history of partition.
Opening for the Proposition was UCD Professor of Modern History Diarmaid Ferriter, who claimed the ‘border was cooked up by British insecurity and unionist delusions’. Highlighting that the original partition of the island was made only in consultation with the Unionist minority, the border was in effect an effort the get the Irish problem off the British agenda. Taking us through the history of partition, he was only briefly interrupted by opposition speaker Rachael Mullally who questioned was the history of the border more important the financial cost of reunification.
This point was quickly brushed aside as Ferriter responded that no discussion on reunification and the border could take place in the absence of historical context. He then went on to explain how the indifference of the British to the Northern Irish problem has changed the dynamic, and the fact that the cultural difference have receded, with the Republic of Ireland having changed significantly over the last decades. He finishes by saying that ‘Brexit has provided the key to open the door’ and that it was the chance to take the opportunity.
Ben Lowery an editor for the Belfast Newsletter was the first opposition speaker. He argued that it made sense for Northern Ireland to remain a part of the largest nation-state that could cohere, i.e. the United Kingdom. His central claim was that even if unity was achieved that it could not hold together. He further attacked the idea that the division was ‘unnatural’ or a geographical oddity by asking if Scotland was to gain independence would it be deemed unnatural?
Lowery tried to convey the unionist worldview to the audience, by saying that unionst see the world in a similar way to those from Excess or Sunderland do, and them departing their nation in the name of unification was madness. He also pointed out how that Nationaists could leave just as soon as they got 51% of the vote, an option not on the table for many other such movements around the world.
Lowery finally came back around to a final point regarding the cultural differences between Northern Ireland the the Republic, stating that the plantations changed the North, their experiences of the border separated them further and the different views of the Troubles have in his mind made it impossible for unity to be achieved.
Rowan Kelleher, the treasurer of UCD’s Young Fine Gael society was next up for the proposition and opened his argument by highlighting that the British establishment were broadly indifferent to Northern Ireland until it caused trouble, or was political beneficial. He quickly recapped the history laid out previous on the border before coming around the elephant in the room: Brexit. Kelleher said that Brexit highlighted the indifference of the British establishment to the North, as neither side discussed the effect it would have. Furthermore he spoke of the threats made against the Good Friday Peace Agreement by the Tory party for political gains shows that British cannot be trusted to manage the North fairly.
Keller touched on the idea that the cultural and social difference between the North and the Republic have faded, with the Republic having become more liberal as a whole over the last decade. He also discussed the underlying idea that the proposition was not just seeking a territorial unity, but a cultural, social and political unity as well.
Rachael Mullally who has previously represented LawSoc at European University Debating Championships was the second speaker for the opposition, and chose to focus on the economic realities of unification. She condemned the proposition for speaking of the historical elements of the border saying ‘that when you make an argument grounded in history, you speak from a position of privilege.’ She accused the proposition of ‘suffocating’ the debate by framing it in history.
Mullally spoke of the alleged £11 billion that Westminster pays into Northern Ireland every year to keep the economy afloat. She claims that the Irish Government and Irish taxpayer would have to cover this cost in the event of reunification. This she argues would divert resources away from other more vital areas like education, homelessness and healthcare. Upon highlighting that Northern Ireland was one of the most economically deprived areas of the UK, Mullally was asked from the audience if it was right that the Republic leave them in that state? She responded that she believed that the UK are the ones who should be paying for the North, not the Republic. Finally Mullally quickly mentioned the security implications of reunification, particularly the possibility that violence could return to the region.
Finally speaker for the proposition was Meagan Fearon, a Sinn Féin MLA for Newry and Armagh. She quickly shot down the idea that the money received from Westminster was £11 billion per annum, pointing out that the British treasury doesn’t actually give the exact figures to anyone. She also said that there were many expenses in Northern Ireland that would not need to be covered upon reunification, such as additional expenditure on defense, servicing debt and many services which were duplicated.
She quickly moved into a grand pitch about how reunification was not just a chance to join the island, but a chance to rebuild Ireland ground up to include all people. She believes it is important for Unionist to join in this conversation so that they are comfortable with this debate. She went on to discuss the benefits for the North, particularly with regards to rights to marriage and healthcare. Fearon also spoke of the need for unification to truly unlock the Northern Irish economic potential, which was currently tied to a London centric economic model.
She told the audience how currently the assembly in Stormont currently has very limited powers with regards to the economic affairs of Northern Ireland, and that the reunification of the island give the North the chance to reach its potential. She spoke of studies which claimed that there would be an gain of €5,500 per person within eight years of reunification, and savings of over €8.5 billion for the state as the duplication of services ended.
Last up for the opposition was Juliette Barnes previously represented the L&H at European University Debating Championships, who kept coming back to and reiterating Mullally’s points about the economic impact of reunification. She also criticised the proposition for their failure to respond to the concerns regarding safety raised by the opposition saying that ‘no one can promise there will not be a return to violence.’
She expanded on Mullally’s arguments regarding the economy saying that it was obvious that quality of life would drop as a result of reunification, and there was no reason we should believe things will get better. She quickly summed up by saying that it was too dangerous a time to open the door to reunification as we faced into a tough economic situation.
There was a general Q&A afterwards were the points were briefly expanded, before the final vote where the audience supported the motion in favour of a United Ireland. The motion for next week is ‘This House Believes that Pride Parades are not for Straights’, and will be taking place at the normal time of 6:30 p.m. in the FitzGerald Chamber.
Aaron Bowman – CoEditor