Monday 15 June 2009

Brendan O'Leary and the prospects for a United Ireland

Although unionists of all shades refuse to take part in any discussion of a United Ireland, they are happy to cherry-pick comments from such discussions where they suit the unionist agenda.

Hence it is inevitable that the speech made by Professor Brendan O'Leary at the Unite Ireland conference in New York on 13 June will be book-marked by unionists and repeated ad nauseam as if it were gospel.

O'Leary – soon to be beatified by unionists – "dismissed the argument that the nationalist population can out breed the unionists, though he did point out that the gap has closed significantly". His precise arguments are not revealed, so it is unfortunately not easy to counter them, but there is adequate evidence on this blog alone to question whether he is correct.

He also said that "it might make sense to preserve Northern Ireland as a unit and leave the South to decide whether it wishes to disaggregate into two or three units or just to have a two-unit federation. This, to my mind, is consistent with the principle of pluralism rather than assimilation." These are, of course, not new suggestions – many people have put forward possible structures for a post-reunification Ireland.

In essence, of course, O'Leary was arguing for the debate on reunification to move beyond the sectarian headcount. In order to try to move it there, though, he is trying to discourage those who count heads by telling them that that method will not work. This is also an old trick, one that was practiced for years by such eminent (but mistaken) thinkers as Garret Fitzgerald. In trying to move beyond head-counting into persuasion O'Leary has a very valid point, but it is a shame he muddied his argument by misrepresenting the demographic evidence.

It is the strongly-held opinion of this blogger that the best path to a united Ireland is through the identification of a majority of the population of Northern Ireland with the island as a whole – culturally, politically, historically, economically and socially. If that majority identification happens to come about through demographic changes, then it is just as valid a majority as if it came about through persuasion or incremental reorientation. But better yet would be the positive and deliberate participation in the life of the nation by all of its children, irrespective of religion or origin. At present, though, for reasons that most commentators prefer to ignore, a large part of the northern Protestant population chooses to ignore, denigrate or actively oppose participation in the life of the island as a whole – even where logic and rationality would argue for closer cooperation and participation.

In these circumstances, although many people will continue to work towards the creation of a new agreed Ireland in which all of us feel comfortable, the absence of the unionist voice in the conversation makes it difficult. The demographic argument is a valid card to play, if for no other reason than to alert unionists to the dangers of their continuing boycott of the subject. It would be better for them, and for the country, for them to abandon the irrational aspects of their position and to join the debate. If, as some argue, there are sound economic or social arguments in favour of the UK, then how could it hurt if these were explained? An open conversation between the peoples of the island implies no pre-determined outcome, and so nobody should fear it. Unfortunately, though, O'Leary's recent comments make it less rather than more likely that unionists will come out of their bunker and talk.


Dazzler said...

How can Sinn Fein have a conference named "Unite Ireland" and not give any details of their strategy to achiecve it.

hoboroad said...

Dazzler they have opened a debate on a United Ireland why don't the Unionists put up some reasons for not having one.Then Sinn Fein can put up the reasons why there should be one it's always good to talk.

Dazzler said...

Im just wondering why they dont let their strategy out publicly?

hoboroad said...

Maybe they are waiting for the SDLP to develop a strategy and then nick it?Is that not what Sinn Fein usually do!

Anonymous said...

saw this on Adam Price (Plaid Cymru MP)'s blog.

(mewn undeb mae nerth - in unity there is strength).

Do you think SF would go in with the EFA?

Horseman said...

Indeed EFA sounds interesting. It sounds like a more logical place for SF to be, but I expect some of the decision will be based on the relative sizes (and thus strength, speaking times, committee positions, etc) that the two groups will have. Provisionally the EFA has 53 seats and the GUE only 32, but this is still a bit fluid as they are still negotiating. If SF moved to EFA it would give them at least 54 which makes them fairly significant. It'll be ineresting to see what they decide.

Anonymous said...

It's all very well to talk about "persuading" Unionists of the benefit of a unified Ireland. But it's also nonsense. Unionists are Unionists because until they have no option they want to remain tied to England's economic teet.

Even if Unionists closest friend in the UK - Scotland - went independent in 5 years, does anyone seriously think Unionists are going to push to leave England's teet? Of course we must not forget opposing a free 32 county Ireland is a large part of what their culture is about. Being part of a unified Ireland will make many of them feel they have no identity anymore - think of the G.Campbells or S.Wilsons.

Unionists will only leave the UK when a majority in the six counties obtain the democratic right to remove England's yoke from the north of Ireland. And any Unionist who can't imagine life outside of England's political jurisdiction can freely move to England.

The rest will be Ulstermen living in Ireland as they have always been and will be an intrinsic part of the national parliament in Dublin.

Militant Mike said...

Ulstersnotdoomed ?? - If Liam Clarke is right in his article on page 17 in todays - 16th June 2009 - Newsletter (and no i don't buy it - i read it for free in a Bank - and in typical Alliance fashion i peruse it, the Irish News and the Irish Times) then most of the stuff posted here, whilst interesting, is largely a waste of time.

Horseman said...

Well, Militant Mike, I did say that unionists would salivate over what O'Leary wrote, and here you have the first concrete example.

All Clarke is doing is repeating O'Leary, so it's nothing very new. But I cannot fathom where O'Leary gets his ideas - "O'Leary discounted the idea that Catholics would outbreed Protestants and use their numbers to vote for a united Ireland. The percentage of the Catholic population in Northern Ireland has now stabilised at 40-45 per cent and is likely to stay that way for 30 years or more, which is as far as anyone is prepared to predict."

Where on earth does he see this 'stabilisation'? Certainly not in any objective source. If over 50% of the young are Catholic, and 66% of the deaths are Protestant, then it would take a bad mathematician to claim that things are 'stablilised' for the next 30 years.

Clarke is playing to a unionist gallery, of course. Time will prove him, and O'Leary, wrong.

As for the 20% drop in southern living standards - what a load of crap. Even if they fall (and it'll be much less than 20%) they will rise again. The fundamentals of the southern economy are still quite good - low corporate tax, very open economy, business-friendly envronment, etc. The crisis is fairly short-term - who'll be influenced by it in 15 years?

Anonymous said...


Good on ye!

Mack said...

A commenter on Slugger made similar claims the other day - but I'm shocked that a journalist held in as high esteem as Liam Clarke could make such a mistake. Did he not read the 2001 census? Or any School Census since? It's reasonably clear that the Catholic birth rate remains higher than the Protestant birth rate, that the under 30's are majority Catholic and that in the next couple of years the child bearing cohort will also be majority Catholic (while producing more babies). There is no way in the world this can result in a Catholic population stable at 40%!

He may have mixed up Brendan O'Leary's point on nationalist political growth. Prof O'Leary himself seemed a little confused as to the nature of the recent growth then stagnation in the nationalist vote. Back in the 1970s nationalists were prone not to vote, while Unionists were highly motivated voters - in the 1970 Westminster election nationalists took less than 25% of the vote. This reversed over time, in the 1999 European elections nationalists took 45% of the vote. As we've have seen turnout differentials have narrowed somewhat recently. Prof. O'Leary's take was confused. The nationalist vote was increasing at 0.8% per annum and on target for a clear nationalist majority by 2023, but now has stagnated. In truth, turnout differentials and motivations changed with time and of themselves were not going to be enough to deliver a nationalist majority. You are closer to the mark with your political generation theory Horseman. Demographic change is slow and steady.

Anonymous said...

Is Mr. Clarke held in such high esteem and if so by whom?

I may be mistaken but I seem to remember a Liam Clarke being associated with a campaign to have Ireland rejoin the commonwealth.

It obviously had huge success since we have heard no more of it since. Good riddance.

MPG .....

Horseman said...


He's the NI editor of the Sunday Times, so has some grvitas. Unionists love him (a little) because he's clearly a Castle Catholic.

PS, are you sure your P is G? Mine is burgundy but clearly says Eire-Ireland on the cover ... ;-)

kieron said...


re. "The nationalist vote was increasing at 0.8% per annum and on target for a clear nationalist majority by 2023, but now has stagnated"

Do you mean as a result of changing demographics or turnout?

re. "As we've have seen turnout differentials have narrowed somewhat recently"

Has no one analysesd the trunout rates yet? That Horseman is either a lazy fecker(hint of irony) or he doesnt want to know the awful truth? The Prod rate is still clealry below the Fenian rate based on the Euro constiuency figures.

hoboroad said...

Ah the Sunday Times the words Hitler Diaries ring any bells!

Anonymous said...


Unfortunately I am not so young.. my first passport was hard covered, bigger and a lovely shade of green. It is one of the things we had to give up in the name of progress and being good Europeans. On balance, it was a loss, but I think most people agree with the burgundy version. I miss the recognition it gave standing in a queue in some far flung quarter of the world and what that could lead to in terms of recognition and the resulting few pints.

The words are also used in a poem by a very famous noble gentleman from Derry. I`m sure you got it in one. I believe he was offered a very auspicious job (poet laureate) by her majesty or her government and I seen to remember that he wrote a poetic reply declining the invitation. I am open to correction to this as it was a long time ago.

I will try to find it and share its wisdom on Ulsters Doomed.

MPG .....

Anonymous said...

I cant find the poem but this is on

I thought it had to do with the post of poet laureate but not so according to this.

He wrote a few lines to explain his objection to inclusion in the 1982 Penguin Book of Contemporary British Poetry: 'Be advised, my passport's green/ No glass of ours was ever raised / To toast the Queen.'

MPG .....

Horseman said...


I'm ashamed to say that I didn't get the poetic reference. I'm not so young that I didn't also have a green passport (or 2) too, but I think its been burgundy for ages now (10 years at least).

Anyway, MPG is more of a metaphorical thing than a purely factual thing!

Horseman said...


Has no one analysesd the trunout rates yet?

I honestly don't know if that would help. We only have the t/o rates by constituency, and there could be considerable variation within constituencies. Are t/o rates a question of religion (I doubt it) or of hardness-of-contest? For instance I reckon that both P and C in Fermanagh have high t/o rates. Ditto Mid Ulster, South Down, etc. But in areas like Strangford unionists never really had to bother, and nationalists never had much incentive either.

If you have an idea of how to do it (that makes sense) then I'd be delighted to hear ... and I'd even volunteer for the number-crunching!

hoboroad said...

I did get the famous Seamus reference!

Anonymous said...

I wonder how much this blog by:

A. Treating Unionists as some sort of sub-species to be ignored and;

B. Identifying every Catholic as pro-destroying the United Kingdom by virtue of their baptism...

actually contributes to incidents such as the murder of Kevin McDaid?

Anonymous said...

Last @21.17,

Please explain. Do you not agree that the people of Ireland have a right to democratic self determination and to activly work towards it?

Are you a slight bit too tetchy or what, with its message. Is it too close to home?

Or is the sight of a tricolor justification enough for murder?

In case you did not know the tricolor represents both communities on this Island and has long been accepted as such by the protestant population in the southern part of our (yes, yours and mine) country.

MPG .....

Anonymous said...

Nothing to do with being tetchy. I see this blog for what it is...complete and utter tosh.

The creator of this blog is making every Catholic, irrespective of constitutional persuasion, a potential target for those cavemen elements within working-class loyalism.

Mack said...

Andrew (I presume) -

Cavemen elements have always been there, I don't think they need this blog or any other for motivation.

On the other hand, I have seen this blog quoted on Unionist blogs as reason to reach out and broaden their appeal. If the Union with NI is to survive it needs to find away to accomodate the Irish nation within the UK (in fact it needs to become a better advocate of Irish cultural expression (Ulster variety), than the state to the south and west).

Anonymous said...

'Cavemen elements have always been there,'

Yes, and when you go to the garage forecourt you know that petrol has 'always been there'. Doesn't mean you have to smoke a cigar whilst you're filling your tank though, does it?

Although Chekov is someone whose Unionism is a world away from mine, I can't better his description of this site as a 'nasty little weblog'.

Indeed it is.

As for making NI a success, a clear majority that live within its borders support (by means including, and other than, electoral) its existence.

It has outlasted many other countries and territories around the world. For most within the broad Unionist and non-aligned communities, that's all the success they are looking for.

Anonymous said...

You are entitled to your opinion about this blog and I respect that. Democracy and free speech and all that. This is what makes the world go round.

So working-class loyalism is still living in the 18th century! And the rest of the world had better keep quiet about it or it will re awaken the shankill butchers.

Do not mention re-unification of Ireland, put a tricolor on your house when your national team is playing or dare to enjoy the evidence put forward on a public blog about demographic change occurring daily in the north of Ireland for the FEAR that some loyalist caveman will randomly pick on a Séan Citizen and murder him.

This is an inditement of the unionist community which has allowed animals like this to flourish. I am amazed-- these people vote for QC`s for gods sake. The middle ground in Unionism should grow up and grab the initiative by the scruff of the neck, bite the bullet (not literally) and get on with real politics to further moderate Unionisms integration into reality and work with all the parties towards a just society within an agreed Ireland.

Let the bully boys know that they are not wanted and that they have nowhere to hide.


MPG .....

kieron said...


I agree with you, but Horseman has to be careful with his language - which I think he is - I have to say I do feel more uncomfortable talking about the high Prod death rates than I do talking about high Fenian birth rates. Horseman is Prod himself - did I read that somewhere?


Are you a Prod?

I will have a crack at turnout rates my self when I get a chance - I will simply take the percentage of Prods by constituency and multiply it by the turnout rate and put the results in a league table. It doesnt cover the Strangford effect that you mentioned but I think it is a pertty good inidcator.

Anonymous said...

'Do not mention re-unification of Ireland,'

There's nothing like making hysteria out of a sensible point.

'put a tricolor on your house when your national team is playing or dare to enjoy the evidence put forward'

Put what you want on your own house. Just don't put the flag of the Irish State (NOT NI) in public areas on street furniture subsidised by the UK Treasury and offensive to the majority of NI's citizens.

'evidence put forward on a public blog about demographic change occurring daily in the north of Ireland for the FEAR that some loyalist caveman will randomly pick on a Séan Citizen and murder him.

Evidence? Demographic scaremongering based on evidence incapable of being corroborated outside the mind of its own propagandist.

By the way, having supposedly accepted the legitimacy of NI through the Belfast Agreement (whatever your ideas for its future) it would be appreciated if you could refer to the territory by its correct title.

Thank you.

Anonymous said...


You have already informed us that you will not be entertaining us ever again a few weeks ago.

Why the change of heart?

Is curiosity killing Pinocchio or is the craic too good to miss.

MPG .....

Anonymous said...

A Aindriú,

Oíche mhaith agus coladh sámh.

MPG .....

hoboroad said...

Chekov says we are a nasty little weblog and to think I liked him in Star Trek!

hoboroad said...

Most Northern part of Ireland is in Donegal.Ulster has 9 counties not 6.Still its nice to see Unionist's so concerned about our welfare.Where was this concern from 1921-1972 I wonder?

Anonymous said...

'You have already informed us that you will not be entertaining us ever again a few weeks ago.'

Never used the term 'never again'. I reserved that policy for Slugger.

'Is curiosity killing Pinocchio...'

I leave killing to the republican movement who are then rewarded for that killing courtesy of votes.

'Oíche mhaith agus coladh sámh.'

I like cold ham salad too.

Horseman said...


Strictly speaking I am an atheist, but my background is, as you say, Protestant. I am a descendant of the Plantation, judging by my surname, but am categorically not a unionist! However, having been raised amongst them, I know them far too well.

I am quite happy to use words like 'Prod' (though I tend not to) as I am one of the 'tribe'. When talk about death rates amongst elderly Prods, I am actually talking about my own relatives - but that's a fact of life, so I'm happy to analyse it. If it makes others uncomfortable, all I can say is 'get over it' - we all die - and our deaths do have an impact on the world around us. I don't buy into the taboo about mentioning daeth. I don't gloat over deaths, I just report them and their impact as dispassionately as possible (casting a cold eye on life, on death, I pass by!).


hoboroad said...

Horseman what do you family think of your political views?How long have you held sceptical views of Ulster Unionism?Do you think there are many people from a protestant background who think like you to afraid to speak out?

hoboroad said...

Arlene Foster in the Newsletter going on about vote-splitting again.Arlene goes on about being a democrat yet wants to limit peoples choice at election time! UCUNF is her target this time what is it about UCUNF that spooks the DUP so much?Arlene variety is the spice of life!So UCUNF want to put up 18 candidates for Westminister big deal what are you afraid of Unionist Voters tired with the DUP going back to UCUNF thats what.

Anonymous said...


Well said. Is it because of your particular background that causes certain people to respond in such negative ways to your work? I`m sure its dangerous for some one of the protestant community living in the north to openly voice such opinions but are there any others?

Its not about religion, Andy, its about identity and my fellow northern protestant Irishmen realizing it and grasping the opportunity with both hands for the betterment for all on our shared Island.

Just like my protestant neighbors who are seamlessly integrated in the south of Ireland and who contribute hugely to its success.

We are not so bad you know, Ireland of the welcomes, etc

Eh, cold ham salad translates as "Good night and sleep tight" as I`m sure you did.

MPG .....

Horseman said...


In my wider family politics is simply not discussed. Whether people know my views (or how strong they are) I simply don't know.

As for how many nationally-minded Protestants there are - I guess the number is not so small, but very few are going to risk a petrol bomb by publicising it. In private, though, many Protestants acknowledge an attachment to Ireland, Irish culture, even the Irish language ... but most draw the line at voting for a nationalist party. Maybe this partially explains the low turn-out rates in Protestant areas - some Prods are simply not unionist, though won't (yet) vote nationalist. The challenge for nationalism is to channel the inate affecton that a part of the northern Protestant people have for Ireland into some form of political expression. It may require time, maybe new political vehicles. It is interesting in this regard to look at how patriotic many southern Prods are (and again, I know this as I have many southern Prod family members).

hoboroad said...

I think people in the Unionist parties are scared of Horseman as he clearly puts forward his political position and they are worried.What often starts as a trickle often ends in a flood!

hoboroad said...

And that can only be a good thing!

Interested said...

Horseman - have you made your identity public yet?