Letter: Overcoming 'obstacles' to Anglo-Irish negotiations

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Sir: Today (15 July) the Independent reports that an Anglo-Irish summit planned for next week is in jeopardy, because talks between London and Dublin have hit 'obstacles'. Last weekend the Sunday Telegraph identified one of these; namely, the Irish Prime Minister's refusa1 to support the dropping of Article 2 from the Irish Constitution (which claims the 'whole island of Ireland' as the Republic's national territory), and his offer instead to amend Article 3 so that 'the reintegration of the national territory' referred to there is made subject to 'the principle of consent'.

Albert Reynolds's stance evidently issues from conviction, for in a recent letter to the Lisburn councillor Gary McMichael, he affirmed his belief that 'the achievements (sic) of a united Ire1and by agreement and consent would provide the best and most lasting solution, practically, economically and culturally, which would be in the long-term interests of the people of both traditions on this island'.

The reasons that might be offered in support of this belief deserve scrutiny. One might be that peace in the North can only be built on justice; and that justice requires the dissolution of Northern Ireland as a political entity 'artificially' fostered by Britain.

To believe this, however, is to subscribe to two fallacies. The first is that Unionism is basically a species of false consciousness fostered by the British. But in a book acclaimed as essential reading by Garret FitzGerald, John Whyte wrote: 'Authors who have explored the 19th century (and most of them hail from the nationalist stable) have found that the roots of the Unionist tradition are older and sturdier than nationalists were traditionally disposed to admit' (Interpreting Northern Ireland, OUP).

The second fallacy is that Ireland was once a single political entity, and would be now were it not for foreign interference. But Ireland has never been united, except under Westminster.

Another reason that might be offered in support of (re)unification is that Unionists can yet be brought around to giving their consent to it. But, to quote Whyte again, 'the Unionist community in Northern Ireland . . . is passionately opposed to unification with the Republic. (Moreover) its opposition has if anything grown in intensity over the last 20 years.'

It may be that Mr Reynolds has better reasons than these for taking the stance he reportedly does. But if he lacks them, he should abandon it. Certainly because it lacks any foundation in justice. But also because it hinders the building of community between North and South. For the Republic's commitment to (re)unification not only feeds the paranoia of extreme Unionists, but also persuades moderate ones that Dublin still has not learnt to take their distinct cultural identity and political wishes seriously.

Yours faithfully,

NIGEL BIGGAR

Chaplain and Fellow

Oriel College, Oxford

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