Working towards Irish Unity




Northern Ireland at 100: Is Unionism emotionally ready for conversation about a united Ireland?

Monday 3rd May: register for this IrishBorderPoll debate

When asked what he wanted for unionism David Trimble once answered: “To be left alone.” Writing in the Irish Times this month Peter Cardwell bemoaned that unionism feels anything but left alone by constant prodding and talk of a united Ireland. Since Brexit, the Irish unity debate has left them spooked and feeling threatened he argues. So, how should United Irelanders respond? Is it unreasonable to expect unionists to debate a new Ireland if, according to Cardwell “the key tenet of unionism, at its essence is its complete inflexibility”? If even mild engagement with the constitutional change is perceived as a betrayal of unionism where does that leave the unity debate? Is there a danger of United Irelanders simply talking to themselves?

Do we need to make a distinction between political and civic unionism? Have civic groups like Ireland’s Future not already successfully engaged a diverse range of figures from unionist backgrounds in debates viewed by tens of thousands? To what extent is unionism one homogenous block? Might unity campaigners better direct their energy winning over ‘soft unionists’ and the undecided middle ground or are they confident that even the Sammy Wilson’s and Gregory Campbell’s can be won over in time? If they are to be won over what exactly is the offer? Don`t they need to see some meat on the bone before they decide?

One hundred years to the day since Ireland was partitioned and Northern Ireland established Peter Cardwell and Colin Harvey debate Irish Unity. Should we wish Northern Ireland Happy Birthday, or hope it never reaches its 110th birthday?

Peter Cardwell hails from North Armagh. He is a conservative and unionist political commentator, former special adviser to two Secretaries of State for Northern Ireland and author of The Secret Lives of Special Advisers.

Colin Harvey is a Professor of Human Rights Law in the School of Law, Queen`s University Belfast, a fellow of the Senator George J Mitchell Institute for Global Justice, and an Associate Fellow of the Institute of Irish Studies. He is a member of the Management Board of Ireland’s Future.

Register for the event on Eventbrite.