Northern Ireland news

The Economist focuses on a united Ireland as Brexit and shifting demographics means it's more than a 'republican fantasy'

The latest edition of The Economist which examines the possibility of Irish unity

A UNITED Ireland has moved from being a "republican fantasy" to a "real and growing possibility", according to one of the most influential English language publications.

The Economist has dedicated its latest edition to the increased likelihood of a united Ireland, citing Brexit as the key factor in shifting the dynamics towards support for Northern Ireland severing ties with Britain.

The magazine, which features an image of Ireland on its cover this week with the caption: “A united Ireland - could it really happen?”, also notes that recent statistics suggest Catholics now outnumber Protestants.

It points to its analysis of the 2001 and 2011 censuses, along with results of the latest quarterly labour-force survey, which indicate that Catholics are now the "single biggest confessional grouping in Northern Ireland".

The Economist leader article proclaims that "sooner than most people expect, the momentum for a united Ireland could come to seem unstoppable".

"If Scotland chooses independence, many in Northern Ireland would lose their ancestral connection to Britain," it says.

"If the government in Westminster persistently refused to recognise that there was a majority in favour of unification in Northern Ireland, that could be just as destabilising as calling a referendum."

The leader argues that Ireland "needs a plan" and that the priority should be to work out how to make unionists feel that they have a place in a new Ireland.

"Work is needed on the nuts and bolts of unification – including how to, and indeed whether to, merge two health systems (one of which is free), the armed forces and police services, and what to do about the north's devolved assembly," it says.

It notes that the south has a "fine record for the sort of citizen-led constitutional consultations" and urges politicians from Britain and Ireland to "start talking".

"The price of ending violence two decades ago was for Northern Ireland, the Republic and Britain to jointly set out a political route to a united Ireland," the leader article says.

"If the people of the north and the Republic choose that path, the politicians must follow it."

Hamish Birrel, The Economist's public policy correspondent and author of a number of articles about Irish unity in this week's edition, said the magazine chose to focus on the issue due to the shifting political and demographic landscape.

"Not long ago talk of Irish unification seemed fanciful," he told The Irish News.

"But the combination of Brexit, long-term demographic change and Sinn Féin's success in the Irish election meant that we felt it would be worth taking a look at how exactly it could come about and what would be the main issues to deal with, from the economics of unification to questions about devolution."

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