Who fears to speak of a United Ireland?

Liam Cowley argues that a discussion of Ireland’s reunification does not begin at the level of “high politics”, nor should it do so

Credit: Barry McQueen

With the news that a preferendum on the SU’s stance on a united Ireland is on the way, it is important that the Trinity student community makes the right decision; that we stand on the right side of history and embrace a future of Irish unity.

To date, pieces in Trinity student publications have warned that the question of a united Ireland is controversial and a potential source of division, effectively saying “don’t go there”, “nothing to see here”. The cautious opponents of a united Ireland in College have talked of the division that our Union having a pro-Irish unity stance or, even talking about the matter, would supposedly bring. They are trying to scaremonger us into thinking that with a preferendum and a pro-unity stance we’d be plunged into a situation on campus where metaphorical “peace walls” would be required to separate two warring tribes.

The second part of this argument is to say that the question of Irish unity is not one for us students. This suggests that we are either above it or that we are not worthy of discussing “high politics” as a piece by the University Times’ Editorial Board termed the matter. Both arguments can be easily tackled and refuted.

Taking stances

“The question of a united Ireland is important and the debate in Trinity should be based on sincerely held views, not the shallow accusations and finger-pointing of ‘division’.”

Our SU takes stances on a considerable array of issues. The direct relation of some of these issues to standalone student concerns (if there can be such a thing) can be disputed and often is. However, this has not stopped the SU taking any stances to date. It takes stances either by referenda or through class reps voting in Council. The SU has taken stances on many issues with which a significant number of students find themselves at odds. These include the 8th Amendment to the state’s constitution. Surely, if there were to ever be a divisive issue, it would be this. For those who oppose repealing the 8th Amendment, the SU has backed a position that directly clashes with their moral compass. For them, the SU is endorsing the view that one category of humans can legitimately choose to end the life of another category of humans, something they believe is fundamentally wrong.

For those who support the SU’s position, they have an equally entrenched view that the legalisation of abortion is central to the fulfilment of women’s liberation and gender equality. Nothing could be as divisive as the issue of abortion. The Rubicon has been well and truly crossed as far as the SU taking stances on divisive matters is concerned.

It would be hypocritical and disingenuous on the part of anyone who supports the SU’s stance on abortion to oppose taking a pro-united Ireland stance on the basis of it being potentially divisive. When you see this argument against a pro-united Ireland position being endorsed by someone who supports the SU taking a “Repeal” stance, you know they do not care about division. When you see or hear them talking about “division”, you know they really mean “I oppose a united Ireland, but I don’t know why or haven’t the courage to say why”. The question of a united Ireland is important and the debate in Trinity should be based on sincerely held views, not the shallow accusations and finger-pointing of “division”.

Why exempt students?

“High politics’ will address the issue of a united Ireland only when wider society compels it to do so.”

In relation to the argument that the Trinity student body should not take a stance on a united Ireland because such a prospect is either so illegitimate or so far removed from us that we ought not to think about it, it must be recognised that we are all much more than merely students. We as humans, are all political animals. Of course we should be permitted to say “I want the division of our country to be ended” as much as “I want another microwave in House 6”.

Most of us are Irish citizens first and foremost, and most of us have been Irish citizens from day one and will remain so until our final day. But Irish citizens or not, while at Trinity, all of us live in Ireland. We ought to be concerned with this country. That should especially be true of those of us who are citizens and who think of ourselves as Irish before anything else. Not only do we have an unqualified right to discuss our country’s past, present and future, if we feel any sense of duty to our country or one another we will feel duty-bound and obliged to discuss such things and work for what we hold to be the national good in any and every area.

What puts addressing the question of a united Ireland beyond our capabilities in the eyes of the anti-unity side? Is the future of our country to be subject to the Brexit negotiation strategy of the British government and the whims of the Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire? Is “high politics” their preserve, even if it pertains to our country? Must the ordinary Irish person, student or not, learn to accept their place as Britannia endeavours to rule the waves, international trade and other countries’ affairs once more?

Trinity student, Hist Auditor and Irish patriot Thomas Davis pressed upon his fellow students in 1840, that “you have a country”. We would do well to remember that that country is now ours. We should strive to be good stewards of it and to see it restored as a united land with a united people, putting a definitive end to the limitations on our potential that stem from the British government holding sway over the destiny of 2 million in the north-east, and indirectly on prospects of the 5 million in the 26 counties.


While any support in the world of “high politics” for a united Ireland is to be welcomed, it is not the be-all and the end-all. “High politics” will seriously address the issue of a united Ireland only when wider society compels it to do so. The primary concern for supporters of Irish reunification must be to build momentum across all spheres of society. Our Students’ Union cannot be permitted to exist in a bubble, or worse, a half-bubble that cherry-picks the easy “external” issues on which to take a stance. Students do not get an exemption on the united Ireland question, nor should we seek one. As Bobby Sands wrote in his prison diary 36 years ago: “Everyone has their own particular part to play. No part is too great or too small, no one is too old or too young to do something.”