A United Ireland is the idea of a sovereign state covering all of the thirty-two traditional counties of Ireland. The island of Ireland includes the territory of two independent sovereign states: the Republic of Ireland, which covers 26 counties of the island, and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, which covers six counties.
A united Ireland, fully independent of the United Kingdom, is supported by Irish republicans and Irish nationalists. Conversely, unionists and loyalists oppose this and support Northern Ireland remaining part of the United Kingdom, and even the Republic joining them. In the 2009 Northern Ireland Life and Times survey, 21% of those asked supported a united Ireland. In the Republic of Ireland, a united Ireland was favoured by around 80% of people in 2006. In Great Britain surveys show about 40% support a united Ireland, and 32% supporting the idea Northern Ireland should remain part of the United Kingdom.
Several different models for reunification have been suggested, including, a system of government akin to the Swiss Federalism, a confederalism, and a unitary state. Article 15.2 of the Constitution of Ireland (enacted in 1937) provides for the possibility of devolution within the Irish state, originally intended to absorb the old Stormont institutions of Northern Ireland. In 1999 the related Articles 2 and 3 of the constitution were amended to abandon the territorial claim on the Northeast.
The partition of Ireland in 1921, following the Irish general election of 1918 stemmed from demographic, economic, religious and political factors. In demographic terms, the six counties of Northern Ireland taken as a whole contain a slim unionist and Protestant majority that favours continued union with Britain although individually four of those six counties actually have nationalist majorities. The twenty-six counties of the Republic contain a very large Roman Catholic majority that rejected British rule and became semi-independent in 1922. In political terms, the British government was reluctant in the 1920s to withdraw its jurisdiction from the whole of the island; its policy since 1921 has been to agree to Irish unity only by voluntary consent of those in Northern Ireland.
While Irish governments, particularly under Éamon de Valera, pursued the goal of a united Ireland throughout the 20th century, the prospect of a united Ireland assumed particular importance following the outbreak of the Troubles in Northern Ireland in the late 1960s. All major political parties in Britain and in both parts of Ireland now accept the principle that a united Ireland can be achieved only with the consent of the majority of the people of Northern Ireland. All major political parties in the south favour a united Ireland, as do the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) and Sinn Féin in Northern Ireland.
A united Ireland is opposed by the unionist parties and loyalist terrorist groups in Northern Ireland. The UK Government is committed under the Northern Ireland Act 1998 to following the wishes of the majority of the Northern Ireland population.
- 1 History
- 2 Public opinion
- 3 Political support and opposition for unification
- 4 See also
- 5 References
- 6 Further reading
Kings and High Kings
Before the coming of the Normans, there existed the title of Ard Rí (High King), usually held by the Uí Néill, but this was more of a ceremonial title denoting a sort of "first among equals", rather than an absolute monarchy and unitary state as developed in England and Scotland. Most were described in the records as king "with opposition". Nevertheless, several strong characters imbued the office with real power, most notably Máel Sechnaill mac Maíl Ruanaid (845–860), his son Flann Sinna (877–914) and Flann's great-grandson Máel Sechnaill mac Domnaill (979–1002; 1014–1022), Brian Boru (1002–1014), Muircheartach Ua Briain (1101–1119), and Toirdhealbhach Ua Conchobhair (1119–1156).
What prevented the consolidation of truly national power even by the Ard Rí was the fact that the island was divided into a number of autonomous, fully independent kingdoms ruled by rival dynasties. The most powerful of these kingdoms in the immediate pre-Norman era were Aileach, Brefine, Mide, Leinster, Osraige, Munster and Connacht. In addition to these, there were a number of lesser subject kingdoms such as Airgialla, Uladh, Brega, Dublin, Desmond, and Uí Maine. Many of these kingdoms and lordships retained, at the very least, some degree of independence right up to the end of independent Gaelic polity in the 17th century.
In 1168–72, the Norman invasion of Ireland ended with the acceptance by some of the Gaelic kings and bishops of the unitary rule of Henry Plantagenet as Lord of Ireland. In 1297 the first Irish parliament sat, modelled on the Norman–English parliament but only representing large landowners and merchants. However by 1300 the Norman system was breaking down and Norman lords and the former Gaelic dynasties reasserted local control in their areas. By 1500 the area directly controlled by the Lordship had reduced to the Pale. The power of the lords deputy had become similar to the former high kings "with opposition", and they could only succeed in alliances with the local dynasties.
Under King Henry VIII, the Tudor conquest of Ireland included the establishment of the Kingdom of Ireland in 1541–42. The dynasties were to be included in the system and use English law, and the process took decades of treaty negotiations and wars, ending with the Plantation of Ulster that started in 1607. For the first time since the Norman invasion, Ireland could be said to be united in a way similar to most European states.[dubious ]
Confederate Ireland 1642–49
The next significant moment occurred in 1642 when the Confederate Association of Ireland – an Irish Catholic government formed to fight the Irish Confederate Wars, assembled at Kilkenny and held an all-Ireland assembly. The Confederates did rule much of Ireland up to 1649, but were riven by dissent in later years over whether to ally themselves with the English and Scottish Royalists in the Wars of the Three Kingdoms. Ultimately, they dissolved their Association in favour of unity with the Royalists, an alliance that was in an agreed upon return for religious toleration and political autonomy for Ireland. The royalists however were defeated in the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland, and from 1653–60 Ireland was united for the first time under a British parliamentary government, ruling from London.
Although ruled by Britain, Ireland was a united political entity from the end of the Wars of the Three Kingdoms in 1653 until 1921. Until the Constitution of 1782, Ireland was placed under the effective control of the British-appointed Lord Lieutenant of Ireland due to restrictive measures such as Poynings' Law. From 1541 to 1801, the island's political status was that of the Kingdom of Ireland in personal union with the English (and later the British) Crown. Under the leadership of Henry Grattan, the Irish Parliament (still dominated by the Ascendancy) acquired a measure of autonomy for a time. After the UK Act of Union, of 1800, Ireland became part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, a single entity, with the act removing the powers of the Irish Parliament, upon which time only one, consolidated, UK Parliament sat in London.
Ireland was last undivided at the outbreak of World War I after national self-government in the form of the Third Home Rule Act 1914, won by John Redmond leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party was placed on the statute books, but suspended until the end of the war. It was amended to partition Ireland for six years following the objections of Irish Unionists.
In the Irish general election, 1918, the republican Sinn Féin political party won the vast majority of seats in Ireland. The newly elected Sinn Féin candidates did not take their seat in Westminster; instead they formed a republican assembly in Dublin called Dáil Éireann which declared Irish independence in January 1919. Its claims over the entire island were, however, not accepted by northern Unionists. Under the Anglo-Irish Treaty the Irish Free State became in 1922 the name of the state covering twenty-six counties in the south and west, replacing the Irish Republic, while six counties in the northeast remained within the United Kingdom under the Government of Ireland Act 1920. According to some historians, Sinn Féin had no special policy towards Ulster despite its different religious and political make-up, regarding it as an integral part of an Irish republic.
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In 1925, the Boundary Commission that was established to fix the future line of the border had to be rescued by an intergovernmental deal signed on 3 December. Essentially the Irish Free State's share of the UK national debt was waived by Britain in exchange for the border remaining as defined in the 1920 Government of Ireland Act. Subsequently, but without reference to the financial aspect of the deal, the Free State, and its successor, the Republic of Ireland (declared in 1949), both claimed that Northern Ireland was part of their territory, but did not attempt to force reunification, nor did they claim to be able to legislate for it. In 1998, following the Good Friday Agreement (also known as the Belfast Agreement), the Republic voted to amend Articles 2 and 3 of its constitution so that the territorial claim was amended with a recognition of the Northern Ireland people's right to self-determination.
The leading political parties in the Republic of Ireland, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael (more so the former however), have often made a united Ireland a part of their political message. It is also a main focus of Sinn Féin and the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) in Northern Ireland. The first line of the introduction to the page "History of the Conflict" on the official Sinn Féin website states: "Throughout history, the island of Ireland has been regarded as a single national unit."
In contrast, the Unionist community – composed primarily of Protestants in the six counties that form Northern Ireland – opposes unification. All of the island's political parties (except for tiny fringe groups with little electoral representation) have accepted the principle of consent, which states that Northern Ireland's constitutional status cannot change without majority support in Northern Ireland.
Many Unionist Protestants in Northern Ireland argue they have a distinct identity that would be overwhelmed in a united Ireland. They cite the decline of the small Protestant population of the Republic of Ireland since independence from the United Kingdom, the economic cost of unification, their place in a key international player (within the UK) and their (Protestants') mainly non-Irish ancestry. Unionist people in Northern Ireland primarily find their cultural and ethnic identity from the Scottish and English planters, whose descendants can also be found in the three counties of Ulster which are governed by the Republic of Ireland. Such individuals celebrate their Scots heritage each year like their counterparts in the other six counties. While Catholics in general consider themselves to be Irish, Protestants generally see themselves as British, as shown by several studies and surveys performed between 1971 and 2006. Many Protestants do not consider themselves as primarily Irish, as many Irish nationalists do, but rather within the context of an Ulster or British identity. A 1999 survey showed that a little over half of Protestants felt "Not at all Irish.", while the rest "felt Irish" in varying degrees.
Given that all significant political parties and both the UK and Irish Governments support the "Principle of Consent" the final choice is one for the people of Northern Ireland, alone, to decide. Meanwhile in certain instances there is already a degree of Irish unity. For example the Church of Ireland and the Roman Catholic Church are both organised on an all Ireland basis. Also the Irish rugby football, cricket and International Rules teams are drawn from both north and south. Members of the Irish Defence Forces are drawn from north and south of the border.
Currently, both the Irish and British governments are creating a number of all-island bodies and services, such as the all-island electricity network from November 2007, then to be followed by the all-island gas network. Not only services, but also governmental bodies such as The Loughs Agency, Waterways Ireland, InterTradeIreland and, most notably, the North/South Ministerial Council, have been set up; with more planned in the near future. Recently, politicians have called for there to be an all-island corporation tax of 12.5% (currently the Republic's corporation tax – the lowest in the European Union), to boost Northern Ireland's economy. Other politicians have called for an all-island telecommunications network, especially within regard to mobile phones. The Irish government are currently investing over €1 billion in Northern Ireland as well, especially in the West, around Derry. Investments include upgrading City of Derry airport (at a cost of €11 million), building a Letterkenny/Derry–Dublin motorway or high-quality dual carriageway, reopening the Ulster Canal, and improving cancer services in the region for those in the region itself, but also people from County Donegal in the Republic.
In Northern Ireland
In 1973, the population of Northern Ireland was polled on whether Northern Ireland should remain part of the United Kingdom or join with the Republic of Ireland to form a United Ireland. The poll was overwhelmingly boycotted by Catholics, and so the result of 98.9% in favour of union with the rest of the UK represented the opinion of 57.45% of the electorate.
A possible referendum on a united Ireland was included as part of the terms of the Good Friday Agreement. Currently about 42% of the Northern Ireland electorate vote for Irish nationalist parties that oppose the union with Great Britain and support a united Ireland as an alternative, although it is not the only issue at election time so it is difficult to take this figure as a direct indication of levels of support for a united Ireland. A survey taken in 2008 showed support for a united Ireland at 18% and support for Northern Ireland remaining in the United Kingdom at 70%. Eight percent support independence or other arrangements.
In the Republic of Ireland
Support for Irish unity is a feature of all major political parties in the Republic of Ireland. Some very small pressure groups do exist, such as the Reform Movement and lodges of the Orange Order in the Republic of Ireland, that are sympathetic to Northern Ireland remaining within the UK for the foreseeable future, but their impact on the broader political opinion is negligible. A Dublin riot in 2006 prevented a march organised by "Love Ulster", though the rioters did not have a wide support base. A minority of politically conservative Catholics from the Republic of Ireland, such as Mary Kenny and Desmond Fennell have also expressed misgivings about a United Ireland, fearing the incorporation of a large number of Protestants would threaten what they see as the Catholic nature of the Republic. A 2006 Sunday Business Post survey reported that almost 80% of voters in the Republic favour a united Ireland: 22% believe that "achieving a united Ireland should be the first priority of the government" while 55% say they "would like to see a united Ireland, but not as the first priority of government." Of the remainder 10% said no efforts should be made to bring about a united Ireland and 13% had no opinion. This poll was markedly up from one year earlier when a Sunday Independent article reported that 55% would support a united Ireland, while the remainder said such an ambition held no interest.
In Great Britain
There is significant support in Great Britain for Ireland to reunify as a political entity. A poll conducted by ICM for The Guardian in 2001 revealed that 26% of Britons supported Northern Ireland remaining a part of the UK, while 41% supported a united Ireland. The British Social Attitudes Survey in 2007 found 32.25% supported Northern Ireland remaining part of the UK, and 40.16% supported Irish reunification. The poll has been run 19 times between 1983 and 2007, with each result being in favour of Irish unity. The highest support came in 1994 with 59.36% of the respondents supporting Irish reunification, while 24.09% supported Northern Ireland remaining in the UK.
In the United States
Ireland and the United States of America have a unique connection. There are currently 42 million Americans who claim Irish heritage and millions more recent immigrants into the country. As a result the Irish American community is very large and has a deep interest in Irish affairs with their own Irish ideology which has led to the formation of many Irish American organisations such as the Ancient Order of Hibernians. A United Ireland on the island of Ireland has also been supported over decades by many in the U.S and many motions have been passed in Congress supporting a United Ireland including one by the California Democratic Party passed in 2009. It remains prevalent in the US to ensure that these views of the Irish American people are represented by their public representatives.
Political support and opposition for unification
Opposition to reunification comes mainly from Unionist political parties in Northern Ireland, particularly the Ulster Unionist Party and the Democratic Unionist Party. It also comes from loyalist paramilitary groups such as the Ulster Defence Association and Ulster Volunteer Force.
Nationalist parties in Northern Ireland support the independence of Northern Ireland (and of Ireland as a whole) from the United Kingdom and all nationalist parties support a united Ireland in some form. Sinn Féin is currently the largest nationalist party in the Northern Ireland Assembly (and the fourth largest in the Republic's Dáil). Until recently, it had a policy of violent intervention through the Provisional Irish Republican Army but since the mid-90s had adopted a policy of achieving a united Ireland through constitutional means only. It supports integration of political institutions across the island of Ireland. For example, the party has proposed that Northern Ireland should have some form of representation in the Dáil, with elected representatives from either the Northern Ireland Assembly or the British House of Commons able to participate in debates, if not vote. The major parties in the Republic have rejected this notion on a number of occasions. Should Irish reunification ever occur, Sinn Féin has stated that it would wish to amend the Irish constitution to protect minorities, including the Protestant and Ulster Scots communities, that are already protected by the European Convention on Human Rights.
The Social Democratic and Labour Party had previously been the largest nationalist party in Northern Ireland, but has suffered in elections since Sinn Féin's abandoned armed politics. As with Sinn Féin, it is committed to achieving a united Ireland. However, throughout its history, it has believed that reunification should be accomplished through constitutional means only. It would support a united Ireland only if a majority of both parts of Ireland voted for it in a referendum. In a united Ireland, the SDLP would support the continuation of a devolved Northern Ireland, governed by a local assembly. Aside from the major parties, Northern Ireland has several minor Nationalist parties. Among these, some parties are tied to paramilitary organisations and seek the reunification of Ireland through armed politics. These include the Irish Republican Socialist Party, which supports a united socialist Irish state and is affiliated with the Irish National Liberation Army. Another such party, Republican Sinn Féin, linked to the Continuity IRA, does not believe that the Irish government or the Northern Ireland Executive are legitimate as neither legislates for Ireland as a whole. Its Éire Nua (in English, New Ireland) policy advocates a unified federal state with regional governments for the four provinces and the national capital in Athlone, a town in the geographic centre of Ireland. None of these parties has significant electoral support.
Republic of Ireland
Historically the largest party in the Republic, and the governing party for most of the last 80 years, Fianna Fáil has supported reunification since its foundation, when it split from Sinn Féin in 1926 in protest at the party's policy of refusal to accept the legitimacy of the partitioned Irish state. However, in its history since, it has differed on how to accomplish it. Fianna Fáil rejected the 1985 Anglo-Irish Agreement, which gave the Republic of Ireland an advisory role in Northern Ireland, claimed the agreement was in conflict with the then Articles 2 and 3 of the Constitution of Ireland because it recognised Northern Ireland as part of the United Kingdom. It later oversaw the removal of these articles from the constitution and today fully supports the Good Friday Agreement, which it negotiated in coalition with the Progressive Democrats (see below). On 17 September 2007 Fianna Fáil announced that the party would, for the first time, organise in Northern Ireland. Ahern said that, "it is time now for this Party to play its full role, to take its proper place, in this new politics – in this New Ireland." By 2009 Martin Mansergh accepted that a United Ireland was not a major priority.
Historically, the second-largest party and, following the 2011 General Election, the largest party in the Dáil, Fine Gael, a descendent of the pro-Anglo-Irish Treaty section of Sinn Féin upon the partition of Ireland, has also supported reunification as one of the its key aims since its foundation. It supports the Good Friday Agreement and had previously negotiated the Anglo-Irish Agreement.
The Labour Party, likewise, has also supported reunification since the foundation of the state, although it has always considered this aim secondary to social causes. It also fully supports the Belfast Agreement, and supported the Anglo-Irish agreement. The former President of Ireland, Mary Robinson, resigned from the Irish Labour Party because she objected to the exclusion of unionists from the talks that led to the 1985 agreement.
The now defunct Progressive Democrats, a liberal party, which split from Fianna Fáil in the mid-1980s, supported reunification since its foundation, but only when a majority of the people of Northern Ireland consent to it. The party fully supported the Belfast Agreement. Former party leader, Mary Harney, was expelled from Fianna Fáil for supporting the Anglo-Irish agreement. The party was one of the key negotiators of the Belfast Agreement.
The Green Party support the full implementation of the Belfast Agreement, which takes the possibility of Irish unification into account as the basis of simultaneous referendums on the issue being successful in the Republic and in Northern Ireland. The Green Party are an all-island party, with TDs in the Republic and an MLA in Northern Ireland.
Sinn Féin is also an active party in the Republic, where its policies towards a united Ireland are the same as in Northern Ireland.
In Great Britain, all major parties support the Belfast Agreement. Right-wing groups tend to be Unionist in outlook. Left-wing and liberal groups have traditionally been more open to a united Ireland.
Historically, there has been strong support for a united Ireland within the left of the Labour Party, and in the 1980s it became official policy to support a united Ireland by consent. The policy of "unity by consent" continued into the 1990s, eventually being replaced by a policy of neutrality in line with the Downing Street Declaration.
The Conservative Party has traditionally taken a strongly unionist line in relation to the United Kingdom as a whole by opposing nationalism in Scotland and Wales as well as Northern Ireland. Until 1974 they had a parliamentary alliance with the Ulster Unionist Party and the two parties retained formal ties until 1985. The Conservatives current position is to "[work] in Northern Ireland to restore stable and accountable government based on all parties accepting the principles of democracy and the rule of law.". The Conservative Party is the only main UK party to contest elections in Northern Ireland.
The Liberal Democrats have a close relation with the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland and share their policy of supporting the Belfast Agreement whilst expressing reservations about what they perceive as its institutionalised sectarianism.
There is strong support for a United Ireland in the USA, most recently the Florida state senate called for the "counties of Ireland to be strong, prosperous and unified in one state". On 30 April the Florida State Senate adopted a resolution in support of a United Ireland. The legislation was introduced by state Senator David Simmons, Majority Whip of the Florida Senate. Louisiana legislatures have similarly passed two resolutions calling for the US Congress to promote and support the unification of Ireland. On 16 May the Louisiana House unanimously passed Concurrent Resolution No. 23 authored by State Representative Steve Pugh, R – Pontchatoula. Louisiana and Florida now join other states such as California, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania which have all approved similar resolutions.
- Protestant Irish Republicans
- Éire Nua – "New Ireland", a method to bring about a United Ireland, the government of which would be an Irish federation of the 4 historic Irish provinces.
- Repartition of Ireland
- Breton nationalism
- Scottish separatism
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- Northern Ireland Life and Times Survey, 1999. Module:Community Relations. Variable:NINATID. Summary:72% of Protestants replied "British". 68% of Catholics replied "Irish".
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-  University of York Research Project 2002–2003 L219252024 – Public Attitudes to Devolution and National Identity in Northern Ireland
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- See: Irish general election, 2007
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