[Ed: This is the second part of a two part article. The first part can be found here.]
All these difficulties with devolution and the RoI border would dissolve with the creation of a truly federal state comprised of England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and what is now the RoI. Such a federation would need to have full home rule. The issues which would be left to the federal level would be important but few: defence, foreign affairs, control of coastal waters, customs, management of the currency and immigration. This would not mean that the policy areas reserved to the constituent countries’ parliaments would not be brought to the federal level without the agreement of the constituent countries. Large infrastructure projects such as roads and railways covering two or more devolved jurisdictions would be a good example of the type of issue which might be dealt with at the federal level.
Such a federation would have a good start for England, Scotland, Wales are all undisputed territories with no border disputes or awkward enclaves stuck in the middle of another nation’s territory. The Irish situation is more complicated, but if the entirety of Ireland was in the new federation that would probably take much of the sting which is left out of the sectarian divide. Moreover, the RoI and Northern Ireland would still each have a separate identity and a devolved political class and institutions directly responsible to their respective populations. One of the reasons for the great stability of Great Britain (that is, England, Scotland and Wales) over the centuries is the fact that each nation had its own territory. That would continue under the federation I propose.
Why would the RoI join such a federation?
Why would the RoI wish to give up her independence? The reality is that while she is part of the EU, the RoI is not independent. To begin with she has no control of her currency because the RoI is part of the Eurozone. To that can be added the huge amount of control through EU regulations and directives, interference with national sovereignty which a small state such as the RoI has little influence over because of the EU’s qualified majority voting. Moreover, the way the EU is going, member states are likely to have less and less national autonomy as the federalist project proceeds. (An alternative plausible and damaging scenario is that the EU collapses within the next ten years, most probably through the other states wanting to follow the UK’s example and leave the EU or simply because the Euro crashes. This would leave the RoI on her own.)
For a long time the RoI benefitted greatly from being a net beneficiary with more money coming to the RoI than the RoI sent to Brussels. That is changing rapidly. The net payment the ROI receives from the EU is no longer huge in relation to the size of her economy (GDP €214.623 billion in 2015). The ROI’s financialdelings with the EU in 2015 were:
Total EU spending in Ireland: € 2.009 billion
Total EU spending as % of Irish gross national income (GNI): 1.10 %
Total Irish contribution to the EU budget: € 1.558 billion
Irish contribution to the EU budget as % of its GNI: 0.86 %
It is probable that within the next few years the RoI will become a regular net contributor to the EU budget.
As for RoI exports , those to the EU have declined by over the past year while RoI exports to countries outside the EU grew.
Set against a background of declining monetary benefit, weakening exports to the EU and increasing uncertainty as to where the EU is going, the considerable advantages the RoI would gain in addition to removing the problems a border between the RoI and Northern Ireland create begin to look decidedly attractive.
The RoI would be part of a political unit which was a significant military power, was a permanent member of the UN Security Council and held high positions in powerful international bodies such as the IMF and the World Bank.
The fact that the RoI is part of the Eurozone need not be a great problem, because the RoI could immediately switch to the Pound Sterling as their currency. This would entail far less upheaval than the RoI would experience if they remained in the EU and had to either leave the Euro of their own accord because it was too damaging or simply find themselves without a currency because the Euro had collapsed.
Nonetheless I can see what an emotional wrench such a course would be for any country which thinks of itself as a sovereign state. That this is largely a sham whilst the RoI is within the EU (the same applies to the UK until Brexit is achieved) is neither here nor there if people think of a country as sovereign. Moreover, Ireland as a whole has a long and fraught history with the British mainland. Nonetheless , the RoI would have full control of her domestic matters and would actually have more control in many areas because there is so much that the EU now controls which would be left to each part of the federation.
There is also the greater question of what the world will be like in ten or twenty years. Western Europe including the British Isles has enjoyed a remarkably long period of peace. That may well not last. The threat may not come from European powers but new superpowers such as China and India. This is not fanciful. There are approximately 7 billion people in the world at present of whom at a most generous estimate only one billion live in the West. It is overly sanguine to imagine that such huge blocks of humanity living outside the West will remain forever without expansionist tendencies, tendencies which could extend to Europe or even North America. China in particular is engaged in quasi-empire building throughout the developing world. In addition, there are strong signs that the world is casting globalisation aside with protectionist sympathies growing. That makes the RoI’s substantial trade with the UK potentially even more important than it is now for we are likely to enter a world in which countries look to their own advantage. . Finally, there is the still largely ignored by politicians threat of catastrophic unemployment which is almost certain to come in the next decade or two from the huge advances in robotics and Artificial Intelligence which will allow most existing jobs and, most importantly, most new jobs which arise, to be done without human involvement .
In such an uncertain world being part of a serious military, diplomatic and economic power could be much to the RoI’s4.5 million population’s advantage.