Happy New Year! The arrival of 2024 means it is time for the reunification of Ireland, at least according to a 1990 episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Declan McVeigh described the television fiction and its historical context in The National UAE:
During the brief discussion, Data gives Cpt Picard a list of successful armed rebellions in ages past, including “the Irish unification of 2024”. This prospect – debated between an entirely fictitious robot and a spaceship captain – was deemed by the BBC to be so objectionable that the episode was not broadcast unedited on U.K. television until September 2007, nearly a decade after the signing of the Good Friday peace agreement that largely ended the 30-year conflict known as the Northern Ireland Troubles.
The 34-year-old episode has been reported before but seems to be getting fresh attention now that the designated year has arrived. In fact, future documentaries about Irish politics are unlikely to cite 2024 as the year of the island’s reunification. Just over half – 51 percent – of northern voters would reject a unity referendum, according to an Irish Times/ARINS poll published in early December, while 64 percent of the Republic of Ireland electorate favors eliminating the 103-year-old partition.
Nevertheless, talk of a (re)united Ireland has grown since the 2016 Brexit vote removed Northern Ireland from the European Union. The Republic remains part of the E.U. The economic advantages of that membership have become as much of a driving force toward Irish reunification as the north’s shift to a Catholic majority, or the island’s geographic and historical integrity. Such economic factors were foreseen in a 1923 U.S. press dispatch from Belfast:
The war will continue until Ulster (Northern Ireland) joins the Irish Free State (now the Republic), or until the Free State relinquishes its insistence on a united Ireland. … Ulstermen declare they are not ready to give up their connection to England and never will be, unless it is shown that a united Ireland would be of benefit to them. … There is much speculation but little information in Ireland as to whether and when there will be a united Ireland. … Continued peace in the south, combined with loss of business or reduction of profits to Ulster industry, might shorten the separation.United Press correspondent Charles McCann in a story widely published in U.S. newspapers two years after partition.
Talk of a united Ireland continued in 1924 as the Irish Boundary Commission began its deliberations through 1925. Ultimately, the 1921 partition lines remained unchanged. Newly released Irish state papers show officials discussed the possibility of redrawing the border in 1975 as a way of reducing Troubles-related violence. It didn’t happen.
The reunification issue has ebbed from time to time, but it has never ceased.
Below the Sinn Féin t-shirt logo are two quotes from Irish politicians that caught my attention late last year. They are followed by a passage from a New York Times op-ed about partition. We’ll have to see what really happens with Irish reunification in 2024 … and beyond.
“Irish Unity is the very best opportunity for the future. In the words of Rita O’Hare, ‘We must keep going. A United Ireland lies ahead.’ ”
—Sinn Féin President Mary Lou McDonald, Nov. 11, 2023. O’Hare died in March 2023. She was the party’s general secretary and representative to the United States.
“They (Sinn Féin) think in their minds that they would get the United States behind a united Ireland. They wouldn’t. They would actually turn our friends into enemies.”
–Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, Nov. 18, 2023. In September, Varadkar said, “I believe we are on the path to unification. I believe that there will be a united Ireland in my lifetime.”
“It’s the unionists — the largely Protestant faction clinging fiercely to British citizenship and Northern Ireland’s place in the United Kingdom — who question the terms of the peace they live under and struggle to articulate their future. And it’s the Irish nationalists — those, largely Catholic, who regard the partition of Ireland as an untenable injustice — who are brimming with confidence.”
–Contributing writer Megan K. Stack, “A United Ireland May Be More Than a Dream“, in The New York Times, Nov. 21, 2023.
|United Press correspondent Charles McCann in a story widely published in U.S. newspapers two years after partition.