Cork can lead the discussion on Irish unity

The younger generation can take the lead in the debate on Irish unity, says Orla O’Leary, a Cork member of Sinn Féin, and Cork too can play a pivotal role in bringing it about
Cork can lead the discussion on Irish unity

BRIDGING THE DIVIDE: Irish unityis a positive, exciting prospect, says Orla O’Leary

THE conversation on Irish unity is alive across our island. More and more people are taking part in the debate about a future that belongs to all of us.

The Covid-19 crisis and Brexit have transformed the national conversation regarding a United Ireland in our time. Unity, once seen as aspirational, has now become the focus of real practical considerations about the best way forward for our people, our society and our economy.

The shift in momentum around unity is also generational.

This generation comes at the question of a United Ireland very differently to our parents and grandparents. Twenty-five years ago, the idea of a united Ireland was bound-up in people’s views on the conflict in the north. Today, those who have come of age following the peace process and the Good Friday Agreement are not so constrained.

The united Ireland conversation of 2021 is no longer a heavy ideological burden for people to carry. Instead it is a liberating opportunity to have a once in a lifetime debate about the direction of our country.

For this generation, Irish unity is not shaped by the jagged edges of yesterday but by the possibilities of tomorrow. We have a practical idealism that questions the logic of partition. We ask how much sense does the division of economies, infrastructure, social systems and public systems really make in this day and age?

This generation is sick of hearing about what can’t be done. Now is the time to build a real vision for making Ireland a better place in which to live.

The more we situate the conversation on a United Ireland in the issues that impact our daily lives, the more relevant it becomes. The best example is how we could deliver an all-Ireland National Health Service that works for everyone, whether you are in Belfast or Kerry, Waterford or Down.

We won’t agree on everything, but that’s okay. It is healthy to have different opinions and perspectives. In fact, that often makes the outcome even better.

The most important thing is that we engage with each other and share those ideas and opinions within a spirit of generosity.

Another feature of the unity conversation is what it means for cities and regions. After all, unity is a national transformation to create a stronger Ireland.

We are not talking about simply stitching north and south together. We are talking about creating a new Ireland for everyone.

For Cork, unity would present real opportunities to be the driving force behind a socio-economic counterbalance to the economic power of the east coast. This is an idea already brought to the fore by the Southern Regional Assembly in 2019. However, unity gives the notion fresh impetus.

An expanding metropolitan Cork, developing deeper integration and better links with other parts of Munster, would help create healthy competition with the Dublin-Belfast Economic Corridor. It would promote investment and drive real growth for the region.

This would be positive for the entire national economy, the success of which is more dependent than ever on the development of an indigenous industrial strategy focused on SMEs, particularly following the recent OECD decision on corporation tax.

This means planning for growth, for better jobs, a high productivity, and high wage regional economy where workers’ rights are strengthened.

We are living in a time of great flux. Change is all around us and unity provides a sensible framework to adapt and to progress.

Cork should seize the chance of that change with a thought-out policy for the future of our city in a United Ireland.

The Irish government must plan for Irish unity but it is also important for local authorities to start preparing too. Both Cork City Council and Cork County Council should enthusiastically examine strategies that will allow Cork to position itself for success in the event of Irish Unity. Such strategies need to be multi-faceted and involve agencies such as the Local Enterprise Office and an engagement programme with Cork’s third level sector as an engine of innovation in a new Ireland.

Preparations at local level must also include Cork’s sporting and community organisations in the unity discussion. We already see this conversation underway with regards to our national sports teams. The unifying power and real benefits of supporting one team - that belongs to all of us - is dawning on so many.

No great step-change in our country should ever exclude grassroots sports clubs and groups. They are the beating pulse of everyday life . Irish Unity is about bringing people together and nobody has done that better job than sporting clubs, community associations and voluntary organisations. Their insights will be invaluable.

David Bowie once said, “tomorrow belongs to those who can hear it coming”. We in Cork need to hear tomorrow coming.

Irish unity is a positive, exciting prospect. Why would we wait to simply be part of that future, when we can help to shape it?

This is not a time for indifference or complacency. It is a time for energy and action. It is time for Cork to have its say.

Our great city should take a leadership role in the building of a new Ireland in which every citizen is cherished.

Orla O’Leary is from Mahon. She holds an MSc in Public Policy and a BSc in Government from University College Cork.

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