A REPORT by the Institute of International and European Affairs (IIEA) has caught the headlines with the claim that Irish unity could cost the South up to €20 billion annually. The analysis was quickly challenged by other economists and last week those with different opinions had their opportunity to address the Oireachtas Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement.

Professor John Doyle of Dublin City University was joined by Seamus McGuinness, a Research Professor at the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI), and by Dr Adele Bergin, who is also an Associate Research Professor at the ESRI.

Professor Doyle told the Committee that the IIEA report “is wildly inaccurate as the report contained significant errors and is based entirely on unreasonable assumptions. Consequently the figures report not just the worst case scenario but they are completely wrong.” He estimated that the initial cost to the South would be in the region of €2.5bn a year. That is two per cent of the current annual general government expenditure.

Professor Doyle said that the IIEA report assumed that public service salaries in the North would be immediately increased to levels in the South in the first year. “This is unrealistic and unnecessary... Convergence will happen over time and will involve negotiations with public sector trade unions. Merging salary levels over 15 years – half the time taken by Germany – would mean a cost of approximately €133m (£96.3m) in year one, rising on average by that amount each year."

Professor Doyle also told the Committee that the IIEA study excluded any analysis of economic growth following unity. He said: “It assumes that with the same political system, EU membership, policy framework, education system and tax regime, that NI would not economically converge with the South. This is a very unlikely outcome. Why would Belfast perform so much worse than Cork and Kerry with the same EU access, policies, education and tax system?”

He also pointed out that the IIEA paper took no account of the additional taxes that would be raised from public sector workers.

Professor McGuinness and Dr Burgin made it clear that cost is not a barrier to Irish unity. Irish unity can be an economic opportunity North and South. What is needed is proper planning. The onus to lead that planning is on the government and the Oireachtas but should involve experts, civil society and the public as a whole.

The Dublin government should establish a cross-party Oireachtas committee empowered to produce a green paper. Such a green paper would research all of the key issues crucial to a future prosperous united Ireland. This would provide much needed information about what a future united Ireland could look like and how it would work.

'We are running out of words to describe what is happening in Gaza'

TUESDAY was a special day. For the first time the Palestinian flag flew over Leinster House in Dublin following the announcement by the government to formally recognise the State of Palestine. Tuesday’s move was the latest step in a process that will see the Palestinian Mission in Dublin upgraded to an Embassy. The representative office of the Irish government in Ramallah will be re-designated as an Embassy and its representative there will become an Ambassador.

The Israeli government response to the decision by the Irish state, Norway and Spain was to parade their three ambassadors in front of the Israeli media while forcing them to watch an Israeli film about October 7. Other Israeli Ministers also strongly rebuked the three governments, accusing them of aiding Hamas.

The reality of course is that Israel’s war aim of destroying Hamas has failed. It was never achievable. What is needed is a peace process. And ceasefires to facilitate this. 

Why has Israel reacted so vehemently to the recognition decision? Because it knows that the symbolism is hugely significant. It will provide more diplomatic and international avenues to the Palestinian people to hold Israel to account for its actions and it reinforces the very real sense of international isolation that the Netanyahu government is experiencing at this time. The decision by the Irish state, Norway and Spain means that 146 United Nations member states out of 193 recognise the state of Palestine. Seven European Union members have already taken this step – Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Sweden and Cyprus. With Spain, Norway and the Irish state joining this list that means that one third of the EU states now formally recognise Palestinian statehood. Every effort must be made, especially after the EU elections in June, to get  EU institutions to recognise Palestine.

As the Netanyahu government comes under increasing criticism, the decision by the International Criminal Court to seek arrest warrants for potential war crimes for Netanyahu and Defence Minister Yoav Gallant, in addition to three Hamas leaders, has added to Israel’s isolation. In addition, the United Nations International Court of Justice last week ordered Israel to “immediately” halt its assault on Rafah. Predictably, Israel described the ICJ order as "false, outrageous and disgusting". 

Since then the Israeli assault on Rafah and other parts of the Gaza strip has continued. On Sunday Israel bombed a tent city, burning children and women alive. A bleak, desperate picture of the situation was given in a briefing to the UN Security Council by Edem Wosornu of the Office of the UN for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. She said: “To be frank, we are running out of words to describe what is happening in Gaza. We have described it as a catastrophe, a nightmare, as hell on earth. It is all of these, and worse.”

The next short term steps are clear. The UN Secretary, General António Guterres, has confirmed that ICJ decisions are binding. The Irish government must now use its international diplomatic services to secure support for a resolution at the UN which demands an end to Israel’s genocidal war in Gaza; the release of all hostages – including the 6,000 held by Israel; and immediate humanitarian access for the mountain of aid that Israel has blocked from Gaza. It also needs to demand that the EU institutions recognise the Palestinian state.

A better world is needed

For decades now I have argued that the big central international struggle of our time is for people to have democratic control over the decisions which affect their lives. The absence of this basic right underpins conflict in the Middle East and Ukraine and other parts of the world.  It poisons relations between Ireland and Britain, and within Ireland, although thankfully we have a process for dealing with that. Painfully slow though it is, it is better than war. And such an approach is clearly required in the Middle East and between Russia and Ukraine.  That is what the United Nations should be advocating. 

That means taking a stand for the emancipation of humankind from all objectionable political bonds imposed from outside. Self-determination is our starting point. That means independence of nations, starting with our own.  

Despite Ireland’s historical neutrality, the Irish government has incrementally moved to supporting the ‘security’ agenda of the world’s bigger powers. That is why we need to enshrine a policy of positive neutrality in the Irish Constitution. We should not join or form any association with any military alliance and we should oppose the militarisation of the European Union.

The United Nations needs reformed. It needs to be more democratic, particularly the composition of the Security Council. Proper weight must be given to the majority of the world’s people. They want peace. They want an end to war everywhere. They want an end to world hunger. They want everyone to have access to food, clean water and an end to deaths from treatable illnesses. They want an end to global warming and a focus on measures to protect and enhance a clean, healthy environment. 

So international security needs to shift from a purely militaristic agenda which attacks democratic rights and civil liberties. A security agenda which is based on repression and the promotion of conservative, right-wing economic models favoured by the global elites is not going to deliver true global security.

A better world is possible. It is also needed. For all our local distractions we must never lose sight of that.