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A rolling confederal model… November 21, 2019

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.

Michael McDowell has some thoughts on unity in the IT this week. He is sceptical of a border poll because he doesn’t think that a majority for unity will emerge in Northern Ireland within the next five years and that one does not exist at this point – a key condition that a northern secretary would have to see fulfilled to allow such a poll.

Interestingly though, while McDowell is equally, if not more sceptical about a unitary state he does see some hope:

There are two broad models for Irish unity. One is a unitary sovereign state with a single constitution, legislature, legal system and international status. The other is a confederal Ireland in which the two jurisdictions would share some sovereign powers, including international relations and membership of the European Union.
The confederal model is the only one with a ghost’s chance of majority support in Northern Ireland for the foreseeable future and it probably would not have majority support in the next 10 years. It is the only model in which the need for accommodating the British identity of unionists would have tangible meaning. The North could even retain a Canadian-type link to the crown.

As it happens I don’t disagree, albeit I would frame it slightly differently. But a more interesting aspect of his argument is the following:

What might be very worthwhile is for a consensus to emerge among political parties in the Republic that the form of unity to which we aspire is a confederal rather than a unitary state. That would not suit Sinn Féin, even if Mary Lou McDonald has said that she is open to considering a confederal form of unity.

Ignore the dig against SF and that would mark a significant step forward from rhetorical (at best) attachment by ROI parties to unity.

But agree or disagree with McDowell, the most thought-provoking aspect of his piece is his own analysis as regards the changing demographics of the North. And this, I suspect, is why he is considering this issue at this time.

The two communities are coming into numerical balance. But that does not mean for a minute that those of voting age are majority Catholic. Still less does it mean that all Catholics would vote for Irish unity even if such a border poll were held in the next 10 years.

The very fact this is being so seriously discussed is evidence that there is significant change on the way. The status quo ante is now gone for good, the future will be about engaging usefully with all the people on the island to forge structures that will give expression to various identities while bringing the island itself closer together. That’s not impossible.

Indeed as noted in comments BTL, the GFA’s implicit nod to Stormont continuing a UI points to forms of confederalism (with the end-point of unity, albeit distant) as being there from the off. Or, imagine a confederal set up that was as An Sionnach Fionn has put it, a reverse GFA.

It would be useful if McDowell would tease out further his vision of confedaralism – for example he speaks of international matters being shared, but what of the all-island elements?


1. Paul Culloty - November 21, 2019

I would presume it would essentially follow the same lines as the Austro-Hungarian Dual Monarchy, i.e. both entities would be essentially self-governing in relation to internal issues, but there would be confederal ministries over finance, defence and foreign affairs. As for the Crown, not sure how practical it would be for the North to remain in the Commonwealth if the Republic was outside, but presumably some special membership model could be devised (I believe Nauru and Tuvalu already have such status).


WorldbyStorm - November 22, 2019

That’s an interesting one. As an interim measure Commonwealth membership for the North wouldn’t be the hardest pill to swallow. Think ROI membership would be tricky.


2. benmadigan - November 22, 2019

“special membership model ”
Sort of like Dominion Status?
Just another halting-stage on the road to Unification?
With all the issues to start up again sometime in the future?


WorldbyStorm - November 22, 2019

That’s the flip side of it – agreed. That said the last twenty years suggest that given the right conditions matters can be pretty calm for an extended period, during which demographics would have an effect.


3. benmadigan - November 22, 2019

PS I don’t know if I mentioned how to refute 20 Unionist objections to a United ireland


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