Why a United Ireland should be Purple, not Green & Orange
'NO, I think that is a terrible idea. Isn't that something to do with empire? Why would we join that?' That was my answer when I asked a friend should Ireland join the Commonwealth of Nations. The friend in question thinks Leo Vardakar is doing a good job, voted for Fine Gael in the last election, and dislikes Sinn Fein. If someone of that persuasion, from that end of the spectrum, finds the idea repugnant, then I am thinking it won't fly. And he is not the only one.
I have posed the question to several people since Jeffery Donaldson suggested it, and reactions have been instant, allergic and overwhelmingly negative. It is simply not a runner. Irish people do not want to join the Commonwealth, they dislike the organisation. My own view?
Something like that, joining the Commonwealth, could be done as a gesture to Unionists, in exchange for them reconciling to the idea of a reunified country. I don't believe it should be joined for its own sake, and there are no advantages in joining it for its own sake. I have no fondness for it, and some aspects of it I find objectionable. However, if joining it helped reunify the country, helped reconcile Unionists to a reunified Ireland, helped build a state the vast majority of people, from both traditions, could accept, than I would be open to it.
It is an 'if' of course, and there are some arguments against it. Some people may argue that the Republic of Ireland state is already a compromise, and it is time for the DUP to compromise.
There is also a desperate need to have a serious, detailed conversation about what a united Ireland would entail. The suggestion we should rejoin the commonwealth, as a gesture towards unionists, assumes a certain type of united Ireland. Recently, in response to a tweet by psychologist and author Ciarán McMahon, where he listed off a range of compromises nationalists would have to make in order to entice unionists into a united Ireland - these included making the 12th of July a national holiday, and joining the Commonwealth - I replied: 'There is a serious danger, based on this thread, that a united Ireland is a sort of north Atlantic Belgium: two completely different identities, & historical traditions, that have nothing in common, manage to cobble an artificial state together. Is that unity?'
I think we have to give this point some serious consideration. If a reunified Ireland involves melding two historical and cultural identities that are poles apart, the resultant state could be a mishmash of different symbols, identities, and histories; a cacophony of different voices; a north Atlantic Belgium.
Perhaps we should approach the prospect of a united Ireland in a very different way. Rather than trying to balance the green aspects of Ireland, by making orange additions, take the green out, make the country more multicolored or more neutral.
Rather than trying to balance two strong historical identities, create a state less fixated with historical identity; more secular, right-based, formal and administrative. More Jacobin than Jacobite; with red and blue politics, rather than green or orange.
And there are other considerations. Others may accuse me of second-guessing, making presumptions, about people from a unionist or Protestant background. Do they want Ireland to join this organisation? The DUP may, but who do the DUP speak for? When I was in university, I became friends with many different people from many different backgrounds, and some of them came from southern unionist backgrounds. These were people who held Irish passports, and were citizens of the Republic of Ireland. Jeffery Donaldson, as far as I am aware, does not hold an Irish passport. Surely a state's first duty is to its current citizens, not citizens it wants to incorporate.
I would be interested to know whether southerners of a unionist background feel at home in Ireland, and if not, what changes and gestures could be made to make them feel more at home. The DUP shout the loudest, but they are not representative. While she didn't grab the headlines, Naomi Long, of the Alliance Party, shared a platform with Donaldson and Simon Covney at the Fine Gael Convention. Recently, when asked why she supported the NI backstop in the Withdrawal Agreement, she said something along the lines of, 'I won't allow anyone take away my Irishness, or my Britishness'. I would be interested to know what this Britishness consist of. Is it embodied by the British Commonwealth of Nations, or does she find that organisation as distasteful and reprehensible as Republicans clearly do?
My argument is, yes, let's make gestures and concessions, but don't make presumptions. Over the last few years, there has been two remarkable referenda on these islands. The first was Britain's decision to leave the EU, the second, Ireland's decision to liberlaise its abortion laws. The outcome of both really surprised me. I think the decision to leave the EU is the wrong one, and I don’t see the abortion issue with the same fervent clarity that some of my friends do. However, whatever one's views, it was a demonstration of the power of democracy. When you ask people directly their view, they can really surprise you.
Direct democracy has the capacity to challenge the status quo. The political establishment, and the media, can make assumptions, which, when addressed directly through referenda, can transpire to be dramatically false, as was shown in the UK in 2016, and in Ireland in 2018. What relevance does this have to the issue of the Commonwealth? Potentially nothing, but also potentially everything, because both referenda, right or wrong, have a simple moral; don’t make assumptions. It could be possible that the DUP are as out of touch with Unionists, just as the Dail were on abortion, and Westminster is with the EU. We, as in Irish southerners, especially people from nationalist Catholic backgrounds, will be asked one day to make concessions. We will be asked to make compromises, but we can't assume to know what they are. They could surprise us. We may imagine the Commonwealth, but they may ask us to join something completely different.