Have you ever thought about a United Ireland and what that might mean? I am not talking about some version of Four Green Fields or A Nation Once Again in a sing song but what it means in practical terms for you and your family. There is a lot of chat that there could be a border poll in five years time. That will fly by. Five years ago Guardians of the Galaxy and How to Train Your Dragon 2 (not the first one but the second one), were in the cinema, seems like only a couple of years ago doesn’t it? In a world where we have enough to be thinking about this conversation definitely seems like something best left to political anoraks and phone in shows. But pause for just one second. This is the moment of a generation. Sinn Féin’s monster vote in the south means all the spoofing and bar room chat suddenly gets real. We now have the opportunity to create our own country.
We are nearly 100 years from the partition of Ireland and in so many ways it has worked for the British government and unionism, not in practical terms, but in the deep-down psyche. Partition has become the default button setting of our daily lives, how we speak, how we frame our conversations, how we imagine the future so actually beginning to imagine a united Ireland requires thought, pause, imagination and creativity. Much more than we acknowledge in our ballad sessions.
Partition created two states that hated women and children. Put them in “homes” of torture, violation and indignity. Both states each fostered radical right-wing elements. Extreme Catholicism in the south and Unionist supremacism in the north which led to discrimination in different forms on both sides of the border.
In the south a conservative elite, which embraced a mixture of corruption, gombeenism and clientelism, created their own order of the day for much of that 100 years. In the north pogrom, violation and discrimination led to our conflict with an ensuing trauma, harm and loss that was unimaginable. Well actually some did predict it but dismissed it, in favour of their own peaceful lives where partition served their own interests.
My family is Irish, and we live in Ireland. Britain currently claims and legally treats this land as theirs and the citizenship of my children as British. My kids carry Irish passports, they speak Irish every day, they are Irish in blood and soul. They refuse to be occupied in their lived lives. Yet Dublin treat them as other (just try arranging a wedding in Dundalk) and London treat them as theirs. These five will vote for unity. But they want unity to mean something better than has gone before.
Over the next five years we have an opportunity to recognise the impact of partition and how it frames the lives we live now, in all of its complexity. And we can begin to imagine an Ireland to be proud of. But not through rose tinted glasses. Asking the hardest of questions, considering the real lived lives of those we love, and those we may not like at all.
These five years will not only develop the demand for the removal of a border, it will create the narrative of a nation. An Ireland truly free, for all of its citizens.