Now it seems incredible, but in 1990 it is the episode in the third series Star Trek: The Next Generation it was considered so flammable that it was censored in the UK and Ireland. In this episode, "The High Ground," the information on androgenic Starship Enterprise officers who have been thinking of terrorism, observed from the standpoint of the year 2364 that Ireland was reunited in 2024. The episode withdrew for fear that it might encourage more political violence; 1990 was the year when the IRA bombed the London Stock Exchange, killed conservative politician Ian Gow, and when 81 people were killed in Northern Ireland on both sides of the conflict.
That Northern Ireland at the beginning of the 1990s looked like a different world. It is now more than 20 years since the Great Friday peace agreement. Though power sharing was not easy, it stopped the killings, characterized by voters voting in both parts of Ireland and was the cornerstone of the relationship between Dublin, London and Belfast for almost a generation.
These gains do not make you so sure. The Brexita process reminds us of what is often not appreciated: that resolving this conflict at one boundary was highly dependent on the weakening of other borders within the European Union. Understandably, the focus of the recent weeks was at the current "backstop" – a spare device designed to avoid the heavy border between Northern Ireland and the Republic if the United Kingdom leaves the EU without formal trade action.
Randomly like this line, it's a school yard compared to what's in front of us. After all this maneuvering something more fundamental has happened: the Irish question has shifted. Most people in Northern Ireland are not and still do not want Brexit; want to stay in the EU. As a result, Central European travelers were pushing for consideration of the united Ireland in Europe. Brexit has been charmed exclusively in Northern Ireland by the Democratic Union Party (DUP), a party that undeniably opposes the reunification of Ireland. It all looks like its own goal: the latest research shows that 60 percent of the north is favoring entry into a political and economic alliance with the republic if it helps the economy.
To the south of the border, a conversation about unity was the recent preservation of romantic nationalists and "five pints of provocation" which after several drinks found their inner Padraig Pearse (a nationalist political activist who was one of the leaders of 1916 Easter). However, as a result of Brexit, politicians in the Republic of China talk about unity in a way I have not heard before. It's still away, but not unbelievable. It could take decades, will not be clear and the risk of returning violence is always present, but it does not slip something on the train.
For many in the Republic, in the north is the final limit. Not for me. Like most southerners, when I grew up, I rarely crossed the border because of the violence, while in July 1994, I met a North American wedding in County Down.
Being the best man is always tricky; to be the best man in the north and south alliances during Troubles has set a new set of challenges. At 15 o'clock at the point, the groom and I stood on the altar waiting for the bride. The entire right side of the church was full: full north. Everywhere it is understood that brides are usually late, but congregations should appear on time. As we looked down from the altar, almost every pew on the left, the Dubliners side, was empty. Southerners, almost to a man and a woman, watched a great Irish ritual fast before a big event. This was in the days before the cell phone. I had to get down the road in the minister's shiny Red Opel to slip Dubliners into the church. The brasserie could not stop laughing at these Dubliners, their occasional attitudes towards time and ritual; then, reader, married me. So I started 25-year education in the complexity of Northern Ireland.
I am a regular visitor to the north; our children embodied the Belfast Treaty. I recently traveled around Ulster's Protestant parts from rural Markethill to South Armagh to the prosperous royal road, the suburbs Belmont and Stormont in eastern Belfast, and the coastal fishing villages of the Ards peninsula to the Cookstown estate offices in Tyrone. I see Jack Union and even the Ulster Volunteer Force flag where I have never seen them. Over the last few months, the growing neurotic view of loyalty in Protestant areas is likely because, according to current trends, Catholics will probably be the majority in Northern Ireland by the end of the next decade. Of course, being Catholic does not mean you're a nationalist, but that's a pretty good proxy. At the last elections of the Stormont Assembly in March 2017, unionists lost the political majority for the first time in Northern Ireland.
The latest census data we have in the North since 2011 shows that Protestants and Catholics are almost evenly divided. But deeper digging, there is a big difference in the share of Catholics and Protestants in different age groups. Of the elderly, those over 90 in the north, 64 percent are Protestants and 25 percent Catholics. A total of 9 percent did not have a declared religion. This division reflects the religious status quo when these people were born in the 1920s and more or less reflect the reality of a part of Ireland. The numbers emphasize a sectarian swab that should ensure that Northern Ireland remains Protestant and Unionist. However, this did not represent a flight of medieval protestants at the universities in Scotland and England. They're coming back a little bit. Today, that sextal tampon is thinner.
In the list, when you look at a group of children born since 2008, the picture changes completely. Compared to the over-90s, among which Protestants are more likely to prevail among Catholics, the corresponding number for young people is 34% Protestant and 45% Catholics. In one life-span, the Catholic population in the youngest group almost doubled, while the Protestant group almost fell. When you look ahead, you will see that the Catholic population will soon be the majority, and that could be at the end of the next decade. Protestant Northern Ireland is old, expensive and all nervous; Catholics in six counties are young, wider and confident.
One of the most striking events in the past three decades is how much the Republic of Ireland compared the richest with the whole of Great Britain in general, and especially Northern Ireland. Commercially, the union was a disaster for Northern Ireland. Everyone has suffered financial, Catholic and Protestant, nationalist and trade unionists. Although rarely respected in dynamic local politics and recruitment, as an economic experiment, the Partition was a disaster.
If we go back to Partition 1921, 80 percent of the industrial output of the entire Irish island came from six counties that would become Northern Ireland, mostly focused on Belfast. All Irish industry was founded there. Northern Irish entrepreneurs and inventors were at the forefront of industrial innovation. Until 1911, Belfast was the largest city in Ireland, and the northeast was by far the richest part of the island.
Destroying a once dynamic northern Irish economy according to that in the Republic is astonishing. Having been part of the North of Independence, the industrial production of the Republic is now far greater than that of Northern Ireland. Exports of goods and services from the Republic of Croatia amounted to HRK 282.4bn. EUR; Total exports from the North amount to slightly EUR 10.1 billion. This obviously reflects the investment of multinational companies, but it also highlights how far it is in front of the industrial base of the Republic. Production nearly 30 times more exports highlights the big difference in globalization of business. In the Republic, one in six were born abroad – bigger than the United Kingdom. In the north is less than one in 20. According to the most relevant international indicators, per capita income now amounts to 22,000 euros in a once-rich Northern Ireland and 38,000 euros in a once-impoverished Republic of Ireland.
Over the years, the dependent nature of the Northern Ireland economy has become endemic, with exhibitions in London replacing the impetus for self-payment. More subsidies have made the northern economy more, no less, fragile. Economic prayers rarely stand on their feet. If North now had to pay for itself, its budget deficit would be around 27 percent of GDP.
Annual UK subsidy is just over 10 billion euros annually. When viewed from a North perspective, with a total GDP below 50 billion euros, it looks like a significant piece of information – but when viewed from the perspective of Dublin, it is not insignificant. In the usual way in which financial markets assess whether national expenditures and debts are viable, the debt / GDP ratio is sustainable. Northern Ireland would cost less than 4 percent of Ireland's GDP per year. Of course, even this manageable figure will be lower because the combined Irish GDP of the Republic in combination with the North would be over 300 billion euros, which would reduce the subsidy as a percentage of the revenue even more. In a purely budgetary sense, there is no doubt that the economy of the Republic could absorb the North and that is before the commercial dynamics of unification foster.
Take Kilkenny and Armagh, two similar provincial Irish towns, both with a city status, both sold as large places to visit. Armagh, like Kilkenny, has a vibrant cultural life. But – and here it is great – but while TripAdvisor has 176 restaurants in Kilkenny, there are only 43 in Armagh.
Kilkenny, in the south, has more than four times more restaurants than Armagh in the north, reflecting a divergent social scene, more developed tourist industry, a much more sophisticated local economy and a profoundly different income level and readiness to spend and consume. Casual TripAdvisor prosperity is a kind of brilliant prosperity in the south and the north lacks.
Back to the north, not far from Armagha, Markethill is the place to host the Lambeg drumming world's biggest competition every summer. This village has three fish and chips on one roundabout and a huge arch that celebrates Protestant victories in the battles of Derry, Aughrimo, Enniskillen and all of them, Boyne. The huge banner at the edge of the resort encourages me to "fear God, honor the king and I love the Brotherhood". Such sectorial slogans will not save unity with Britain. Demography implies that Unionists will soon need nationalists to vote for a Unionist to preserve the Union. This will only happen if Northern Ireland is prosperous and open, making the Union more attractive to middle-class Catholics than joining a re-tolerant Republic. Probably the best way Northern Ireland can achieve is to accept the "special status" trading option offered by the EU, where Northern Ireland would be a special trading region within the EU and the UK. Investment will flood North Ireland, a type of investment that is rich in the republic. This is the only long-term option for the Union.
Prosperity, not Protestantism, will save the Union. Right now the biggest threat to this is the DUP and their Brexiter allies. Firm Unionist DUP is against a special status and ultimately endangers their attitude to the Union. Northern Ireland, dependent on Whitehall, is poorer and the county of Northern Ireland, and as a result, the Union is far less attractive to the irresistible nationalist voters.
The Future of Northern Ireland is somewhat like a guardianship where no side – Ireland or Britain – is not sure they want a child, but both know that a child can not survive alone, financially or emotionally. Perhaps there will be a common custody, because despite the different economic results of the two Irelands, Ireland is not just about economics. Cultural, within the trade union tribe there is a deep pressure that will not accept the Republic at any level. Once we were too catholic for them, now – since we voted for gay marriage and abortion – we are too liberal.
Meanwhile, many in the Republic want to preserve the status quo. While the economic revival of the South side makes Ireland's financial capacity more capable, that wealth means that the Irish middle class has much more to lose, given the political risks involved. A significant part of the people in the Republic may not want unification for financial costs or middle-term civil war threats if loyalty decides to fight. Ultimately, perhaps the biggest enemy of unification is not syndicalism, but the south-eastern patriots with a soft focus, who have no mood to risk their bills for paying lower-paid Rangers fans from East Belfast.
When he voted for Brexit, Ireland was hardly mentioned in Britain. Yet, here again, long after continents stopped worrying, one hundred years after the island of Ireland carved London, trying to understand each other the best way forward.
In Northern Ireland, politics is a tribe, but demography is a destiny. The possibility of a new Ireland is emerging. While predicting the unification of data in Star Trek perhaps ten years have passed, certainly in the critical years that follow, Spock's motto "lives long and advances" is a better option for all of us than "has no surrender".
David McWilliams is an economist; @davidmcw, His latest book is "The Renaissance People: How Papal Children Reformed Rules for Ireland" published by Gill Books
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