Tuesday, 17 January 2017

On solving the Ulster conundrum

The power-sharing deal in Northern Ireland between the DUP and Sinn Fein, the largest unionist and nationalist parties in Northern Ireland respectively, has collapsed, paving the way for fresh Stormont Assembly elections to come as early as 2nd March-only seven weeks away at this time of writing. The collapse was down to the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) scandal which prompted the resignation of Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness of Sinn Fein.

These snap elections will take place with only 90 Assembly seats available instead of the previous 108 following legislation to reduce the number of seats per Assembly constituency from six to five, which puts many prominent MLAs in danger of losing even if results stay relatively static in percentage terms compared to May 2016.

However, given that many of the internal divisions in Northern Ireland stem from the fundamental fact that Ireland was split into two in the first place back in 1922 (due to religious differences between Catholics and Protestants in case you are unfamiliar with Northern Irish history) and remains divided to this day, and no election has been fully able to solve this problem, a snap election can only go so far.

So what is a good long-term way to solve the long-running Ulster conundrum?

Reunification of Ireland, even if a lot of people in Northern Ireland do not care about it or are against it, is in my personal opinion the best long-term solution here.. Irish identity and culture transcend religion, and many people especially amongst the younger generation are turning away from religion in general anyway, and are certainly more sceptical about it overall than older generations. The Irish poets and writers of old, and Irish music of all kinds, can be appreciated simply for their cultural merit and are not clouded by religion anyway, and in fact are appreciated by so many. Also, Northern Ireland voted to remain in the EU just as Scotland did whilst England and Wales voted to leave, and Northern Ireland borders one of the most pro-EU European Union nations, the Republic of Ireland. Irish unification would allow the six counties of Ulster to prosper in Ireland when they languish in Britain now in many ways, and help improve inter-Irish connections (the split isolates County Donegal in many ways, for example). Thus, if you cast religious differences aside, a good case for reunification of the island of Ireland can be made regarding these long-running issues.

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