‘Reuniting Ireland: lessons from Europe’ was the theme of a recent conference hosted by Sinn Féin MEP Martina Anderson in the European Parliament in Brussels. The Conference was addressed by a range of Politicians, Economists and Academics from Ireland and Europe.
Before giving her perspective on German reunification, Prof. Dr. Christa Luft (Die Linke), observed: “In Germany, the right drove and owned Unification – in Ireland, Republicanism and the left are driving Unification and the right is opposed to it.”
Dr Luft, former Minister of Economics in the East German transition Government, then gave a comprehensive account of the process which seen the two German states reunified on 3rd October 1990 – after being divided since 1949. But during her summing up it was obvious that major problems confronted the project in dealing with a situation of attempting to reconcile two states with very separate and distinct social orders, political and economic structures and belonging to different Military blocks.
Rather than the reunification being on the bases of equality, understanding and reconciliation between West Germany (WG) and East Germany (EG), the West set the conditions and EG had little option than to accede to WG political, economic and social systems and constitution. It wasn’t approached on the basis of an equal footing.
With the unexpectedly rapid nature of the reunification and adoption of the Deutschmark as a single currency, it meant that WG had control from the start; this had implications for EG in terms of their constitution and societal structures. WG being larger and economically stronger meant that it was going to dominate and control the pace of improvements in EG. There was no long-term political concept or economic strategy in place. Although no one wants to go back to the way it was, if it were possible to start over again there would be a totally different approach and therein lies the lessons for Ireland and our project of Irish reunification.
That is why it is imperative that we engage the widest possible spectrum of opinion to ensure the maximum degree of consensuspossible on the future shape of the New Republic. From this perspective it was informative to hear from the wide range of speakers and audience contributors at a very successful conference. Economist and regular contributor to the ‘Guardian’ Michael Burke, told the conference that from a purely economic point of view, if people want to improve their living standards then they should support Irish reunification as it makes financial sense.
He pointed out that reunification would create the space for a new approach to how the economy is directed and how unionists have been particularly let down by partition. Mr Burke said “In the run up to partition the unionists were told that if they stuck with the British empire they would be better off but what we can see conclusively is that they were sold a big fat lie,”
Calling for more focus to be placed on North/South projects than on cross community, Dr Gerard McCann, a senior lecturer in European Studies at St Mary’s College, Belfast, claimed that North/South projects offer more hope of reconciliation.
He said: “There should be more focus on North/South projects rather than on Catholic/Protestant projects. The drive towards religiosity in terms of funding has not been helpful.” Peace funding should be directed more towards cross border projects rather than cross-community structures, the leading academic said.
In his contribution, Sinn Féin all-Ireland economic Spokesperson, Conor Murphy MP said that the mantra that the price tag of Irish reunification is too costly is predicated on highly dubious guestimates by the British Treasury, Unionist politicians and partitionist elements in the South. Accurate figures on all revenue raised and actual expenditure specifically relevant to the north of Ireland are being deliberately withheld by the British Treasury, Excise and Customs and conveniently ignored by successive DUP Finance Ministers.
He said that a new stronger economy arising from a planned integration of both existing states into a new and agreed Ireland can deliver sustainable economic prosperity that the present status quo is incapable of delivering.
Conor Murphy said: “We need a new approach to economic development across the island, one that doesn’t promote austerity, perpetuate two fractured economies and force thousands of young people to emigrate in search of employment.
“There is a better way for the people of Ireland and it is through taking control of our own sovereign economic and political destiny. I challenge those opposed to Irish unity to enter the debate based on full disclosure of accurate economic figures and not on the basis of scaremongering and misrepresentation of revenue streams.”
Reflecting on the contributions and closing the Conference, Sinn Féin MEP Martina Anderson thanked all of the contributors and said:
“Republicans are actively planning for the reunification of Ireland and we invite others to contribute their views on the merits or demerits of the issue. Martina Anderson said that she recognised that it would not be an easy process and that a national conversation on the subject needs to take place. “We believe that politically, economically and socially we should be operating one all-Ireland unit. We know we have a long way to go but we want to make our contribution to getting that process underway.
“However, we can’t present a blueprint for reunification. It is the people who will do that and we want to help get the conversation started.” she added.
Ms Anderson also called on the Irish government to formally support the preparations for Irish unity, pointing out that Sinn Féin has consistently called for a green paper on Irish unity to be produced. The Irish government should be advancing that ingredient of the debate. “We also believe that it is long past the time for a border poll to be triggered. It is a Good Friday Agreement commitment and we are calling on both the British and Irish governments to honour that agreement,” she said.