So, what’s the sitch-ee-ation with Norn Iron? (It’s okay, my mother is from the North so I can imitate the accent). In light of Martin McGuinness’ death, I though it worth writing a post about Northern Ireland, or “the North”, as I have grown up calling it. A bit of a warning for the keyboard republican warriors- I will have a different opinion from most as I live in a border town and half of my family are from the North. It’s all fine and well to support a united Ireland when you’re down in Cork literally miles away from any scene of possible conflict.
Being from a border town and visiting my relations and friends in Armagh and Derry makes me well used to the North, the accents, the sterling (coins are not ordered in size, why is the 2p so large?) and the lower prices (the mark-up is ridiculous down south). There are some differences, granted, like the education system. My cousins and friends went to secondary school a year earlier than me, and were a lot more specialised in A levels than I was in Leaving Cert (they were shocked I had to Irish, Maths and English). Irish is only taught at Primary level in some schools, but is usually offered in secondary schools. Their political system is obviously different, with Stormont being the Northern Ireland Assembly, a devolved legislature.
I think people clamoring for a United Ireland and a 32 county Irish Republic are forgetting just how recent political stability in the North really is. Peace has only been in place since the Good Friday Agreement of 1998, just shy of twenty years. Before this, people had been brutally killed, bombed, interrogated, and tortured. Both sides of the conflict were in the wrong, but both managed to put aside their differences and come to a lasting agreement, which benefited all of the people living in the North.
Economically speaking, people living in the North have an excellent welfare system. Their education is free, apart from University which has a problematic loan system, but nonetheless, they don’t have to pay a “voluntary contribution” of a few hundred euros to their secondary schools. They also don’t have to pay over three hundred euros for an unreliable school bus service. The NHS, under the name Health and Social Care in Northern Ireland, worked well- free doctor visits, no prescription charges, even free braces! In this article from the Belfast Telegraph about possible charges for GP visits being introduced, people will still only be charged £5 or £10. Meanwhile we are paying €50 per visit in our “free” republic.
While there are many arguments in favour of unity, both ideological and economic, I think the human element is being missed. What people really need is safety, security, and access to healthcare and education. While I am not against a united Ireland, is it worth risking setting off the Troubles again? And at the end of the day, a United Ireland will mostly affect the North itself and the border counties. We will be the ones to deal with the fallout, not Joe from Limerick who just likes the sound of a full 32 county republic, and hasn’t even stepped foot over the border. It’s important to find out what the people of the North want, and the Irish Times did. With Brexit looming, unity is a legitimate option for the North to take. However, I believe it should be done at the behest of the majority of people in the North, not the whole country.