The submission compiled by Deputy Seán Fleming, Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee and I to the Taoiseach’s 2019 Draft Risk Assessment highlighted the need to include a possible referendum on a United Ireland in our National Risk Assessment. There was no mention of the possibility of a referendum on a New Agreed Ireland uniting the people of Ireland in the 2019 Draft National Risk Assessment. Meanwhile, topics as diverse as global warming, cybersecurity, terrorism, the healthcare crisis, the housing crisis and even the possibility of another referendum on Scottish independence are included. The Taoiseach’s response was that “a border poll would not be regarded as a risk, and the very important and sensitive policy issues related to it would not be dealt with in the Risk Assessment process”. The full report can be accessed at the link above.
A key element of the state’s future planning is the annual National Risk Assessment. To quote the Taoiseach in his own words in the 2018 National Risk Assessment: Overview of Strategic Risks, the risk assessment “aims to counteract ‘group think’ and to ensure all parts are heard by Government.”
Since the first National Risk Assessment report was published in 2014, these assessments have called attention to a number of risks that subsequently became major issues for society including Brexit, risks to EU stability, international terrorism, global warming, and risks around cyber security and housing supply. There is no mention by the government of the issues of a referendum on uniting Ireland in the 2018 National Risk Assessment signed by the Taoiseach or the 2019 Draft National Risk Assessment.
In a reply to a parliamentary question by Sean Fleming TD on the 12th of March 2019 as to why the issue of a referendum on a new agreed Ireland was not in the National Risk Assessment produced by the Taoiseach’s Department the Taoiseach replied “Although a border poll would not be regarded as a risk, and the very important and sensitive policy issue related to it would not be dealt with in the Risk Assessment process”.
While the topic of the possibility of a referendum on Scottish independence is mentioned in the section of the National Risk Assessment report titled ‘Instability in Northern Ireland’, the possibility of a referendum on a New Agreed Ireland is not mentioned. This is concerning given that the Taoiseach spoke about his desire to achieve a New Agreed Ireland on the 2nd of January 2018 as reported by CNN. “In terms of a United Ireland, our constitution is clear on this….Our constitution aspires to there being a united Ireland. I share that aspiration.”
In a reply to another parliamentary question from Sean Fleming TD, the Tánaiste stated, “In the event of a future referendum within the consent provisions of the Good Friday Agreement, the Government would make all necessary preparations in accordance with the terms of the Constitution and the principles and procedures of the Agreement.” One lesson we have learned from Brexit is that you do not hold a referendum without the necessary preparation.
An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar set himself a challenge of engaging with everyone about the future of the whole island at his address to the 20th anniversary of The Good Friday Agreement, in the U.S. Library of Congress.
“There is now a particular onus on those of us who currently hold the responsibility of political leadership. We are a new generation. It is time for us to step forward and play our part. That is why we must engage young people in the future of our island. In the months and years ahead, I for one want to engage with the next generation – the Agreement Generation – to build on those achievements…Our mission now is to imagine the next twenty years. Not only to imagine it, but then to build it.”
Senator Mark Daly wrote to the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste, all Ministers, Secretary Generals of all government departments, and the chairs of their Audit Committees and their Risk Committees to ask that they address the issue of a New Agreed Ireland in the National Risk Assessment and send copies of any policy plans. He received two responses addressing the request and thirteen acknowledgements of receipt of his correspondence. None of the responses included any discussion of having a New Agreed Ireland in the National Risk Assessment.
The Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Simon Coveney TD has also said, “I would like to see a united Ireland in my lifetime. If possible, in my political Iifetime.” However, when asked in a parliamentary question by Sean Fleming TD on the 12th of March 2019 why the issue of a referendum on a New Agreed Ireland was not on his department’s risk register or if his department risk committee had examined the issue the Minister could only say “In the event of a referendum within the consent provisions of the Good Friday Agreement, the government would make all necessary preparations in accordance with the terms of the constitution and the principal and procedures of the Agreement”. The full questions and replies can be found in the appendix.
The Brexit referendum has taught us an important lesson: you do not hold a referendum until there is debate and discussion with all sides and all necessary preparations are made. It is widely known that policy neglect seldom goes unpunished and this is very true of the lack of policy preparation for a New Agreed Ireland by the Government.
Voices as diverse as those of the British Prime Minister; former Speaker of the US House of Representatives, Congressman Paul Ryan; DUP leader Arlene Fosters; and Lady Sylvia Herman, MP for North Down, have all spoken about the issue of a Referendum on a New Agreed Ireland or a New Agreed Ireland.
There would be economic consequences due to the lack of policy planning by the Government around a New Agreed Ireland. Research by economists John FitzGerald of Trinity College Dublin and Edgar Morgenroth of Dublin City University shows that continued government inaction in relation to Irish reunification could come at a high price for the Republic, reducing income and living standards by as much as 15 percent.
Gunther Thumann, a senior economist at the Germany desk for the IMF during German reunification, issued a report on the true income and expenditure of Northern Ireland in a reunification scenario. His assessment shows that the current reported budget deficit in Northern Ireland could come close to balanced in a re-unification scenario. Other research such as ‘Modelling Irish Unification’ was compiled by Dr Kurt Hubner of the University of British Columbia. It states that ‘political and economic unification of the North and South would likely result in a sizable boost in economic output and incomes in the North and a smaller boost in the ROI.’ However, this research and analysis was published in 2015 before Brexit. In 2018 Dr Kurt Hubner collaborated with Dr Renger Van Nieuwkoop to publish research entitled ‘The Cost of Non-Unification: Brexit and the Unification of Ireland’ which showed that over seven years, the unification of Ireland could benefit the country by €23.5 billion. The Irish Government should carry out its own cost benefit analysis in relation to the status quo and reunification.
The challenge facing the Irish Government or any economist trying to predict the financial benefits and costs of reunification is best explained by Gunther Thumann when he outlines all the information available. Germany is still not able to say definitively the cost of unification.
“Perhaps more surprisingly estimates of the costs of unification continue to differ significantly even years after the event. For instance, data published by the IFO Dresden, the University of Halle and Klaus Schroeder FU Berlin 25 years after Re-Unification put net transfers per annum (over the period 1991-2014) at EUR68 billion (IFO), EUR54 billion (Halle) and EUR83 billion (FU), respectively.”
In 2017 the Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement published its report entitled ‘Brexit & the Future of Ireland: Uniting Ireland & Its People in Peace & Prosperity’. That report is the first report by a Dáil or Senate Committee on the steps required to achieve a United Ireland as stated in articles 2 & 3 of the constitution and as provided for in the Good Friday Agreement. The recommendations of the report should now be implemented by the government as a matter of extreme urgency.
Despite the unanimous adoption of these recommendations in July 2017 by the Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement, none of these key recommendations have been carried out by the government to date.
We would recommend that the issue of the economic impact of a referendum on a new agreed Ireland would be included as part of the 2019 National Risk Assessment.