By Clíodhna NicBhranair
I have had many conversations over the years about the notion of Irish unity – with varying outcomes, I must admit!
There are those who totally oppose the idea, who are unionist to the core, who view themselves as British. There are those who claim to be ambivalent, who say that it’s not really an issue that comes up in their lives, who view it as the typical ‘orange vs green’ topic that’s best avoided in polite conversation and see no reason to upset the status quo. And there are those, like myself, who want to see a new Ireland.
For me, the reason is quite simple: it makes sense.
Those who imposed partition on this island never saw it as a lasting concept. Today, in this centenary year of the division of Ireland, it is clear that it has failed.
We are subject to the whim of the British Treasury, handed a block grant like pocket money to a child, with minimal autonomy to create a structure which serves the needs of all those in this state, resulting in underinvestment, lack of services and poverty.
In a new Ireland, the fiscal autonomy would exist to create a system that will serve communities across this island and address the economic disparities that exist north and south, east and west.
In the north, the NHS has been constantly undermined by Tory austerity in Westminster, leading to underpaid, under-valued staff and a growing healthcare crisis. In the south, there is an unjust system, on which the standard of healthcare is determined by income.
A new Ireland will properly fund a newly structured National Health Service which will provide quality healthcare to all and be free at the point of delivery.
Our entire island is in the grips of a housing crisis, with homeless figures at a shameful level, housing waiting lists years long and an entire generation of young people unable to afford to live independently.
A new Ireland will have the ability to implement a housing strategy which will address these issues, largely neglected in both jurisdictions for the better part of two decades.
The education systems across our island are tailored to favour those with financial means, leaving those who do not at a significant disadvantage from the outset.
A new Ireland will have an education system which will allow all citizens to reach their full academic potential, regardless of their financial situation.
23 years after the Good Friday Agreement which promised parity of esteem, 15 years after the St Andrew’s Agreement which promised to ‘enhance and protect the development of the Irish language’, and 15 months after the New Decade, New Approach deal, which promised ‘to provide official recognition of the status of the Irish Language’, we are still awaiting the implementation of language rights for Gaeilgeoirí. In the south, the language faces continued neglect by the state with underinvestment in Gaeltacht areas and continued minimisation of role of the Irish language in public life.
A new Ireland will implement legislation which protects our native languages and identities as well as respects and celebrates the diversity of all our people.
Since partition, there has been a clear divide in the provision of infrastructure across the country. Rural and western communities in particular suffer, due to a lack of proper road building and maintenance, poor investment in public transport and broadband services painfully unfit for 21st century purposes.
A new Ireland will rebalance these issues, ensuring that strong connectivity – both physical and virtual – is prioritised.
The rights of workers are not sufficiently protected in the current systems, with no obligation on employers to pay a living wage, constant instability for those on zero-hour contracts and inadequate support for those in industries such as the arts.
A new Ireland will support and protect workers’ rights, whilst recognising the key role that trade unions play across all industries.
The importance of combating climate change has never been more prevalent than it is today. Setting targets without laying out realistic and achievable steps to reach them, is entirely ineffective.
A new Ireland will combat climate change with a realistic approach, supporting the switch to viable alternatives and setting an international standard for a pathway to a sustainable future.
Investing in our communities – in our people – is crucial. Whilst jobs and economy are important, equally so are our home lives, our leisure time, our mental wellbeing. A holistic approach to improving the quality of life for everyone on this island should be the main aim behind any constitutional change and we can only do this together.
Imagining a new Ireland is something I would challenge everyone to do. It may not be a comfortable conversation to have – with your family, with your community, or even with yourself, but it is happening. Avoiding it because you disagree, or because you feel like it doesn’t affect you, won’t stop that.
Our problems won’t be solved overnight – make no mistake about it – but we have an opportunity here like never before. We have the time to discuss and to plan but to do so without an end-goal is futile.
As young citizen engaging in this conversation, I am appealing to the Irish government, through the newly established Shared Island Unit, to immediately establish an all-island Citizen’s Assembly that can, in a structured, safe and organised environment, take forward all of these issues and plan for constitutional change on our island.
It makes sense: Let’s create a new Ireland together.