As economic storms swirl around Europe, the dreary Shires of England are emerging from the autumn mists to threaten greater division in Ireland. (Apologies for the poor parody of Winston Churchill’s famous comments about the dreary spires of Fermanagh and Tyrone.)
The point is that this time around England’s difficulty isn’t Ireland’s opportunity. This time, England’s opportunity is Ireland’s difficulty.
When, almost 100 years ago, Ireland was partitioned even the unionist leader Edward Carson hoped it wouldn’t last. He was an Irish man and he didn’t want his native land to be divided. He hoped self-government in the then Free State would be a success and that the country would soon be re-united. He hoped the northern and southern parts of the island would grow together.
The opposite has happened. Self-government in the Free State and later, the Republic has been a success, despite the present set-back, but North and South have grown further apart. New generations have grown up with little knowledge of the past. They see the Northern state’s existence as normal.
Now the growing tensions between Britain and Europe are threatening to drive an even greater wedge between the two parts of this island. The British have always ruled Ireland in their own interest.
While Enda Kenny was in Germany bagging the title of European of the Year, David Cameron was enduring patronising remarks from Angela Merkel. She said the British could be happy on an island, “But being alone in the world doesn’t make you any happier”.
Opposition to the EU is growing strongly in Britain. People resent paying shed loads of money to keep the Euro afloat.
And, British people don’t feel any ownership of Angela Merkel’s greater integration project. At this rate, British politicians will soon find demands for withdrawal from the EU irresistible. In contrast, most Irish people take the opposite view. They agree with their government that Ireland’s interest lies in greater European integration.
If the British people do vote to leave the EU, the resulting division in Ireland won’t loom large in their considerations. As I’ve said, the British have always ruled this island and more recently the northern part of it, in their own selfish interests.
Irish interests have never mattered to them.
Now the tectonic plates of Europe are shifting again. Outside events could easily open up a new gap along our border.
If Britain leaves the EU and the Republic remains within it, a serious new fault line will be put in place.
Once again, it’s overwhelmingly clear that it would be better if Ireland were governed in the interests of its people.
Then the English could decide to be all alone in the world and it wouldn’t annoy us.