Kelleher on the issue of Irish unification (1954)

In 1954 John V. Kelleher, a Harvard academic of Irish heritage, wrote the following piece on Irish unification for the Atlantic Monthly:

“Irish politicians never stop talking about the Partition of Ireland, a fixation of theirs that seems to shut out consideration of several other large problems which outsiders might regard as more immediately important. The fixation is more apparent than real. If it were real it might produce some result. Instead, for all the complaining speeches and all the dreary propaganda of these last twenty years, nothing has been done about Partition except, perhaps, to make it worse.

The reason is that no one in power in the Republic of Ireland has shown himself willing to consider the price that must be paid for reunion. Partition is used to explain all Ireland’s ills and all Ireland’s conduct. Partition is actually a symptom, one of several major symptoms, of the distemperature the country has been enjoying since the end of the Civil War in 1923. It is no more decisive in the Irish syndrome than emigration or the decline of rural marriage or the fallen state of Irish literature or the queer timidity so often shown toward large internal problems and toward the world outside.

The decision to end Partition rests with Northern Ireland. From time to time some self-appointed liberator in the South talks about erasing the border by a march on the North. This is mere wind. There will be no march. There will be no marchers either. The direction, when it appears, will be all the other way, a voluntary reaching out by the North toward real amalgamation with the rest of the country. When that offer is made it will be accepted at once, and many of those who accept it will be weeping salt tears most pitiful to behold.

For one is forced to the conclusion that those who talk most about reunion dread it most. Indeed, well they might dread it. A reunited Ireland will bear very little resemblance to the current Republic and still less to the corner-pocket statelet of Northern Ireland. It will look and function something like a real country concerned with real affairs…

In reunited Ireland the Protestants would be a bloc of more than 600,000 voters. Every party would have to bid for those votes, and thus for the first time since the revolution, real politics would emerge. The present situation in the North is political inanity; in the South every politician scrambles over every other politician’s back, trying to press, worm; and crush himself against the furthest possible conservative extreme; the centre is vacant, not to say vacuous; the leftward position doesn’t exist. To this there is no considerable liberal opposition, not because there are no Irish liberals – there are plenty – but because no politician will organise such a party.

The true solution, as yet all but unrealised, is contained in Ireland’s great undeveloped potential. The country is not bottled up; it has access to all western markets. It has no excess population. It needn’t be under-financed since the amount of capital invested abroad per head of population, about l50 [pounds] in 1947, is probably the highest in the world. In industry the productivity indices, though still low, have nearly doubled in the last twenty years, but in agriculture, the staple of the economy, the output has hardly changed at all – it is a little lower now than before the war.

There is no telling what upward limit might be reached if courage and initiative were equal to opportunity. For the last thirty years Ireland has succeeded in living on its fat by avoiding any lively exertion. Now, surely, the country is well enough rested to wake up and tackle the big job: the creation of a society and an economy into which all Irishmen may be welcomed with pride.”