Have a look, if you have time to spare, at this debate from a few years ago, regarding the prospects for a united Ireland, and indeed the desirability of a united Ireland. The whole thing has a strange, detached, half-hearted atmosphere about it. Indeed, several members of the panel give an impression of having taken tranquilizers shortly before filming began. The vox pop at the beginning of the show is even worse, and makes me cringe.
Nobody ever talks about a united Ireland in daily Irish life, in my experience. Of course, that's no guide in itself. My reading of history tells me that whole populations can seem utterly uninterested in something one year and be willing to kill and die for it the next. Political passions can go into stasis for generations and then re-emerge with incredible rapidity. But it's certainly very strange, considering how large this issue loomed in the Irish consciousness just a generation or two ago.
I voted "no" to the Good Friday Agreement referendum, nineteen years ago. I was only twenty-one, and I was one of only five per cent of the electorate who voted "no". It's embarrassing to admit now-- I wish I'd voted "yes". Perhaps it was my contrarianism. I can just about remember my reasoning; I didn't want the Republic of Ireland to relinquish its constitutional claim to the whole island, which was part of the agreement. Truth be told, I'm not even a hundred per cent sure I did vote "no"-- my memory is vague. In any case, thank goodness that ninety-five per cent of the electorate voted "yes", and helped bring the Troubles to an end. (For most of my late teens and early twenties, I was passionately anti-nationalist, but I did have nationalistic interludes.)
Today, although I'm decidedly a nationalist, and confidently expect to remain one till my dying day, my nationalism is more about culture and society than the State. Yes, I know the two things are connected, but I think the extent of that connection can be exaggerated. I was born into a State which had been independent from Britain for fifty years, and yet it seemed to lose more and more of its national distinctiveness every decade. That process has continued. But the Irish people seem even less interested in preserving (or reviving) our national distinctiveness than they do in a united Ireland.
I've never been north of the border. I think of Northern Ireland as a foreign country.
It's only the fact that my parents, my grandparents, my great-grandparents, and so many of their contemporaries really, really, really cared about a united Ireland that gives me any regard for the aspiration. Yes, I do feel a bit guilty for my apathy, in that regard.
Getting out of the European Union seems more important to me than having a single government on the island. I would much rather be part of a twenty-six county Republic outside the EU than a thirty-two county Republic inside it.