That old national question—still refusing to go away

The hard-boiled readers of this paper rarely recognise the huge difficulties encountered by a right-wing coalition as it endeavours to govern this republic. There is the problem of ensuring that the rich are pampered, and that the middle class receives favourable treatment, and all the while guaranteeing that the working class contributes its labour at the lowest possible price.

No easy task, even with uncritical support from the mainstream media. There are also all the appeasement requirements. The United States and its transnationals have to be kept happy, Britain must not be annoyed; and then there is Brussels.

And that old national question of a divided country is still refusing to go away. Just when Fianna Fáil and the Blueshirts had kissed and made up, issues revealed by partition reappear—for a change, not by means of a republican border campaign but instead as the result of fall-out from a pandemic and the working out of Britain’s implementation of a Tory Brexit.

None of this is made any easier by events now taking place globally. Contemporary capitalism, under the tutelage of US imperialism, is facing an existential crisis. A confluence of factors, including aftershocks arising from the 2008 financial crisis, enormous productivity losses because of coronavirus, and competition from the emerging economic powerhouse that is China, allied with resource-rich Russia and Iran, have challenged neoliberal hegemony.

Consequently, and taking its lead from Washington (or merely obeying orders?), the British government has recently reversed its position in relation to the Chinese company Huawei. Furthermore, if we were willing to believe MI5, Downing Street has only lately realised that Russia is attempting to influence British election results and to steal pharmaceutical secrets. In reality, the British people are being prepared for a new Cold War, if not worse.

Moreover, desperate to recover from his disastrous mishandling of the coronavirus pandemic, Boris Johnson is taking huge risks to reboot a failing economy.

In response to demands from the aviation industry, the British government has authorised reopening tourism to a large number of overseas destinations. On 3 July the its Department for Transport published a list of fifty-nine countries whose travellers do not need to self-isolate upon arrival in England. Included on the list were Spain and Hong Kong, both of which have recently experienced an upsurge in cases.

In spite of a growing and dangerous complacency in relation to covid-19, the virus remains a major threat to the health and well-being of people in every part of Ireland. That the impact, though devastating, has not been catastrophic is thanks in no small part to preventive steps taken and in particular to a dramatic reduction in foreign travel.

The case of Spain and Hong Kong underlines the hazards inherent in unrestricted travel and the wisdom of ignoring London, coupled with the need to impose a mandatory and verifiable fourteen-day quarantine period for overseas arrivals in Ireland. A major obstacle to doing so effectively, however, is the position adopted by the Northern Ireland Assembly, allowing free travel between the Six Counties and Britain.

There is a wide though not unanimous consensus in the North that this matter should be handled differently. During an interview with RTE the Alliance Party’s health spokesperson, Paula Bradshaw, said the situation was making the North very vulnerable and that she would like to see an all-Ireland approach. Her view, supported by Sinn Féin and the SDLP, was echoed in the pro-unionist Belfast Telegraph when it editorialised that travel rules should apply to the whole of Ireland.[1] Even the Northern minister for health, the Ulster Unionist Robin Swan, appears to be broadly in agreement when recently asking for an all-Ireland stance on international arrivals.[2]

That the DUP leader disagreed hardly came as a surprise. Always determined to emphasise the Six Counties’ “Britishness” by slavishly imitating London, at whatever the cost, Mrs Foster said it was important for business, family life, social life and political life to have the United Kingdom working together. Apparently she believes it better to risk contracting coronavirus disease than to co-operate with her neighbours south of the border. Unfortunately, the existing constitutional arrangement allows her to do so.

Compounding difficulties for the North created by the pandemic is the rapidly approaching deadline of a chaotic Tory Brexit. A picture is now emerging of the inevitability of goods being checked as they move from Britain into the North. Moreover, according to the Institute for Government in London, checks on agri-food goods are likely to be significant, as this includes identifying the origin of prepared items and not just raw materials.

The point about this is not that Brexit is bad or that the European Union is good but that the governing power in London is indifferent to the economic well-being of the frequently embarrassing appendage to the United Kingdom that is Northern Ireland. This is not to say that the British ruling class has no interest in Ireland but that, to serve its interests in this country, they can identify more reliable allies south of the border. The sine qua non, however, is that all of Ireland remains firmly within the capitalist-imperialist orbit; and herein lies the dilemma for Dublin’s coalition government in particular and the status quo in general.

There is a health crisis facing both jurisdictions in this country, and it may well become worse as restrictions on travel into the North are lifted. There remains a homelessness and housing crisis, north and south, demanding direct state intervention, which Tory and EU-driven neoliberalism prevents.

Coupled with a diminishing health service in the North there is an iniquitous two-tier health service in the Republic, a calamitous situation that cannot be rectified as long as free-market privatisation prevails in the Republic and encroaches on the Northern service.

There is also an intolerably large number of workers merely getting by on miserable wages, kept low by deference to big business and the slumbering leader of the Green Party.

The difficulty for the Fianna Fáil-led coalition is that to remedy these problems the country would have to be reunited within a sovereign, independent state. For the good of the people of this country it is necessary to relieve these charlatans of their headache by bringing together the forces and resources that will replace them and set about establishing the workers’ republic.

So let’s not be shy about making this case as loudly and clearly as possible. Piecemeal reforms can be useful, but only a thorough transformation will address the core issue.


  1. Belfast Telegraph, 20 July 2020 ( s-should-apply-to-whole-island-as-confusion-reigns-over-republics-green- list-39380151.html).
  2. “North’s Minister for Health calls for all-Ireland stance on international arrivals,” Irish Times, 24 July 2020 ( lth-calls-for-all-ireland-stance-on-international-arrivals-1.4313000).