A unitary state is more efficient, more equitable and arguably simpler in its daily operation; but the process of building one from two separate jurisdictions with a century of divergence would be complex, expensive and traumatic. A confederal state would be relatively cheap, fast and painless to construct, and could be done without creating any new government bodies; but it would not in itself address any long-term inefficiencies or structural inequalities.
There is a synthesis. Continue reading...


The escape hatch

There are some who argue that disruptive change is exactly what Northern Ireland needs, and I have sympathy for their position. It does sometimes seem that politics in NI is incurably dysfunctional, and this perception is the same one that motivates support for Direct Rule among Unionism. But just as Direct Rule from London has been ruled out as lacking balance, so must Direct Rule from Dublin. That leaves a unitary state, asymmetric devolution, and (con)federalism as the possible models of a new Irish state. So let’s give the options a test drive. Continue reading...

The mechanics of a border poll

Even if a change is accepted in principle, it will often founder on the details. The principle of a united Cyprus has been accepted by both sides for decades, and yet still they cannot agree. The principle of a united Ireland is not yet accepted by both sides, so what chance have we of agreeing a radical change, or any change at all? If there is to be constitutional change, three things need to be done in sequence. Continue reading...

The Rorschach Test

I argued in an earlier piece that the word "Unionism" should be handled with extreme care, because it has become overloaded with far too many overlapping yet inconsistent meanings. For slightly different reasons, we should also avoid using the phrase "United Ireland". "Unionism" refers to a collection of existing things that can, with effort, be… Continue reading The Rorschach Test

The end of the world

In the 19th century national identity in Europe was more deeply entwined with religion than it is today. Witness the creation of Belgium in 1831 from the remains of the Spanish Netherlands, when formerly Hapsburg areas seceded from the United Kingdom of the Netherlands to form a Catholic-majority, multilingual state with a French-speaking aristocracy. In… Continue reading The end of the world