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Is a united Ireland just around the corner?

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Northern Ireland has remained under British rule since 1921 when London divided Ireland thus creating two jurisdictions on the island. However, as our correspondent Ken Murray reports from Dublin, a number of recent opinion polls suggest that changing attitudes and demographics coupled with forthcoming milestone events are likely to speed up calls on 10 Downing Street to give the go-ahead for an Irish unification Referendum within the next five years.

In Northern Ireland, pop: 1.8 million, you are likely to be on one side of the political divide or the other. If you’re a working class Irish catholic you totally oppose British rule in favour of a united Ireland.

On the other hand, if you are a pro-British unionist from the protestant community, loyalty to the Monarchy in London has been built in to your DNA going back to the English Reformation in the 16th century and the plantation of Ulster.

But despite 25 years of civil war from 1969 to 1994 costing more than 3,500 lives in a push by Irish republicans to end British rule in the province peppered with numerous stops and starts in the evolving peace process, significant change is afoot in Northern Ireland which suggest that its days in the UK are numbered.

An opinion Poll carried out by LucidTalk for the BBC NI Spotlight TV programme revealed last week that a majority of people on both sides of the Irish border are of the view that Northern Ireland will be out of the United Kingdom by 2046.

The survey of 2,845 participants in N.I. and 1,008 in the Republic revealed that 49 per cent of people questioned said that if there was a border today, they would vote to remain in the United Kingdom.

43 per cent of those questioned in Northern Ireland said they would vote for unification while eight per cent didn’t have an opinion.

South of the border in the Irish Republic, 51% said they would vote for a united Ireland if a referendum took place today with 27% voting against.

However 51% of those polled in Northern Ireland said they didn’t expect N.I. to be in the UK in 25 years time.

Simultaneously, a Red C Poll carried out for European Movement Ireland revealed amongst other things, that 43 per cent of people in the Republic don’t expect unification by 2031.

With 66 per cent in NI saying they definitely wanted a Border Poll within the next five years and 37 per cent opposing, the Survey was dismissed by British PM Boris Johnson.

He told the Spotlight programme that he couldn’t see an All-Ireland Referendum for “a very, very long time.”

Keen to play down the results of the Poll, Irish Taoiseach Micheál Martin (pictured) appeared to adopt a wait and see approach saying he didn’t see a referendum happening for some time stating that such an exercise would be “explosive and divisive.”

The figures from the polls ignore the fact that three major milestones are coming down the line that are likely to speed up calls for such a unification vote.

If the Scottish National Party secure the majority of seats in the forthcoming Assembly election on May 6th, increased pressure will come on Boris Johnson to grant an independence Referendum.

Should that happen within the next two years and the SNP win, the United Kingdom as a political block will be finished thus speeding up calls for a similar Poll in Ireland.

Assembly elections in Northern Ireland in May 2022 are highly likely to see the pro-Irish unity party Sinn Féin win the majority of seats putting them in the dominant position for the first time since the province was cut off from the Republic in 1921.

In the meantime, the Northern Ireland census will be published next year and is expected to see the catholic numbers in Northern Ireland surpass protestants for the first time in over 300 years, a further but highly significant development that will speed up calls for a unity referendum.

Northern Ireland's Deputy First Minister and Sinn Fein leader Michelle O'Neill told RTE TV in Dublin last weekend that “now is the time to talk and plan for something better in relation to a united Ireland.”

She said: “Partition had failed Northern Ireland, adding that it was the slowest growing economy across the islands.”

Reacting to the LucidTalk Poll, Northern Ireland’s First Minister and leader of the staunch pro-British DUP party Arlene Foster dismissed the figures telling BBC NI "this whole thing that a united Ireland is just around the corner, I have heard that all my adult life”.

"This is a feature of narrow nationalism, that they use this sort of inevitability argument that we are going to move towards a united Ireland.

"Over this past while we have spent so much time and I have listened to so much debate over a united Ireland but yet there is no balanced debate of where we are in a global United Kingdom moving forward."

In the meantime, all eyes are on the outcome of the Scottish Assembly elections next week which, ironically, could be the catalyst for change in Ireland.

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New G7 tax regime is worrying news for Ireland

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Last weekend’s news that the G7 group of wealthy nations plan to extract more tax from high-profile tech corporations may be good news for those who feel these super rich companies are not paying their fair share. However, this new plan may be bad news for Ireland, the most successful country in Europe when it comes to attracting Foreign Direct Investment as Ken Murray reports from Dublin.

When finance ministers from the seven richest nations on earth gathered at Lancaster House in London last weekend to discuss their respective and global fiscal issues following on from the COVID-19 pandemic, one particular person from Ireland sat in the room as an apprehensive observer.

Irish Finance Minister Pascal Donohoe (pictured) was there in his role as chairman of the European Commission euro group. It’s the all-important Committee that represents the 19 EU states that use the euro currency on a daily basis.

After much too-ing and fro-ing, the G7 and EU concluded their meeting with a communiqué stating that corporate or business tax will be raised to a minimum rate of 15% with an emphasis that the money will be paid in the country where the production operation is based rather than the location of the corporation HQ.

To the average Joe and Mary Bloggs living in downtown Berlin, Rome, London or Paris, 15% is no big deal but in Ireland where the corporate tax rate is 12.5%, the 2.5% gap could be the difference in attracting or losing jobs as foreign corporations look for the cheapest and most attractive options to set up European hubs to maximize their respective profits and increase their stock market value.

At a time when Ireland’s competitiveness is suffering the most over Brexit as it now costs more to move product through the UK to get to mainland Europe and vice-versa, the last thing the Irish government needs is would-be US investors by-passing the country because it has lost its hitherto attractive incentive.

“I am very confident that while there is change coming...this is change we can respond to,” said Minister Donoghue afterwards with his Irish Finance ‘hat’ on, suggesting that the Dublin Government will do all in its power to hold on to the foreign corporations in Ireland who play a huge part in propping up the Country’s GDP figures.

According to the Irish Fiscal Advisory Council, the increase in corporation tax for foreign investors could cost the exchequer in Ireland a hefty €3.5 billion per year, an unwelcome prediction at a time when the Country has just added €50 billion to its national debt due to Covid.

This is a not a lot of money in each of the G7 nations but in the Republic of Ireland where the population is just under five million, €3.5 billion pays a lot of bills!

As it is, attracting FDI or foreign direct investors in to Ireland has been a hugely successful policy by the Irish Industrial Development Authority since the 1980s.

When the Irish economy was stagnant then, FDI was difficult due to the ongoing war in Northern Ireland while the mass emigration of highly skilled college graduates to foreign states proved to be politically unpopular.

As a result, a major plan to attract leading US corporations in to Ireland became a number one priority with the Irish state, metaphorically speaking, ‘bending over backwards’ to lure these companies in with a wide array of incentives and supports.

The introduction of a corporate tax rate of 12.5%, the evolving fact that Ireland is now the largest English-speaking country in the EU and with a steady supply of highly skilled tech graduates from its growing number of industry-driven colleges, the Country has become something of a magnet for major US tech giants.

With a special income tax rate in place for CEOs as the ultimate sweetener, ten of the major tech companies in the World have now chosen Ireland as their European base.

These include Apple, Microsoft, Facebook, Google, Twitter, Pay Pal, Linkedin, Intel, eBay and Tik Tok. Add on Pfizer, Wyeth and Eli Lilly pharmaceuticals to name some of many, the 1600 or so foreign companies operating in Ireland who employ a minimum of 250,000 people, have contributed enormously to the Irish exchequer and not surprisingly, the Government in Dublin is keen to retain them and continue the determined push to attract more.

Despite the fear that the expected ‘level playing pitch’ could see Ireland less attractive than other EU states for attracting new business, Pascal Donoghue indicated at the weekend that the G7 statement is not the end of the matter.

Speaking to reporters, he emphasised than an OECD meeting later this year is likely to determine where non-G7 countries stand in relation to corporation tax on foreign investors.

“Today is a very clear signal regarding the larger economies’ view of that process but we have some time to go on the OECD process and even when that concludes, the actual agreement has to be implemented.

“The implementation of the last agreement on corporate tax took many years. [That] will be the case with this again both from a legislation and implementation point of view.”

In the meantime, as the Irish Government worries that Ireland may not be as financially attractive for FDI investors in the future if these revised tax rates take hold, Minister Donoghue indicated that he will present his case to US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and the OECD Secretariat to make the point that small countries need to be allowed to remain competitive otherwise their respective economies will struggle.

“[I have] continued to make the case for legitimate tax competition inside certain boundaries,” he said, suggesting that the Irish Government will continue to fight a determined rear guard action to retain its attractive 12.5% tax rate.

The matter is likely to dominate the next meeting of G20 countries when they meet in Rome next October.

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DUP at war

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Unionism in Northern Ireland is in turmoil with elected members of the dominant Democratic Unionist Party in open warfare over the election of its new leader Edwin Poots. With the name of the expected new First Minister of the Northern Ireland Assembly due to be announced in the coming days, subsequent events could see the collapse of the regional parliament and with it, the expected ascent of the pro-Irish unity Party Sinn Féin to become the largest political party in the province, as Ken Murray reports from Dublin.

On 22 June, prominent pro-British unionists will gather at Belfast City Hall for an event to mark the 100th anniversary of the first opening of the Northern Ireland Parliament by King George V.

The institution, was once described by former NI Prime Minister James Craig as being “a protestant parliament for a protestant people” while the sovereign parliament in Dublin served the wishes of the mainly catholic community in the South following the British division of Ireland in 1921.

For 100 years, unionists from the protestant community have viewed Northern Ireland as being as ‘British as Finchley’, the one-time constituency of former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

However, turmoil within unionist ranks has meant that what should be a day of glorious celebration on June 22nd to mark the creation of Northern Ireland, is shaping up to be anything but.

The pro-British Democratic Unionist Party, which currently has the largest number of seats in the Assembly, is in open warfare.

A recent rebellion by hard-line elected DUP members of the Northern Ireland Assembly to overthrow leader Arlene Foster saw ultra-conservative Edwin Poots win over Sir Jeffrey Donaldson MP by just two votes, with just under half of the parliamentary Party feeling the heave was foolish and unnecessary.

A senior DUP source told The Belfast News Letter paper “that individuals across the Party were considering resignation with some likely to go to the [rival] Ulster Unionist Party.”

At a ratification conference of Party members in a Belfast Hotel last week, a number of senior members in the Party including Lord Nigel Dodds, his wife Diane and MPs, Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, Gavin Robinson and Gregory Campbell, walked out just as Poots took to the microphone to deliver his victory speech, itself a reflection of the bitterness in the Party.

Arlene Foster, who many observers say has been treated in appalling fashion, is being clearly scapegoated by one-time party friends and colleagues.

As they see it, she failed to prevent the introduction of the so-called Northern Ireland Protocol negotiated by London with Brussels as part of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement.

The Protocol sees goods exported from GB to NI checked at ports in Belfast and Larne thus creating a notional border in the Irish Sea which, as unionists see it, now aligns Northern Ireland closer to Dublin and further away from London.

The unfortunate Mrs. Foster is the victim of a deal which Boris Johnson told DUP members would never happen but was subsequently reneged on by him!

Following the heave against Mrs. Foster, she had planned to step down as NI First Minister in dignified fashion at the end of June but the ruthless nature of her removal suggests she will be gone in the coming days.

Speaking to Chris Mason on the BBC Newscast podcast about her humiliating defenestration she said, “……..politics is brutal but even by the DUP standards, it was pretty brutal.

"If Edwin decides that he wants to change that team, I will have to go as well because I can't stay with a new ministerial team of which I have no authority, and that would be wrong."

Poots, who in 2012 as health minister imposed a controversial ban on gay men donating blood and is on record as saying that the earth is only 6,000 years old and has, bizarrely, ruled out appointing himself as First Minister!

Favourite to take the role is Poots loyalist 39-year old Paul Givan. However, if Givan is nominated as First Minister for Northern Ireland, a series of knock-on events could see Edwin Poots reign be a short-lived one!

Under the rules, the appointment of a new Northern Ireland First Minister would also have to see the election of a deputy First Minister from the opposing Irish nationalist side. In this case, that would see the existing holder of the Office, Michelle O’Neill, nominated again by the pro-Irish unity party Sinn Féin.

As it is, there is increasing frustration and growing anger within Sinn Fein over the ongoing delays and failure of Poots’ DUP to approve the introduction of the contentious Irish Language Act.

Granting such a move, as many unionists see it, would result in Northern Ireland becoming more ‘Irish’ and less British with the language being taught in protestant schools and ultimately becoming more visible on road signage and State institution logo designs!

Should Sinn Féin insist as part of a deal to support Givan for the First Minister position that a deadline date must be imposed to introduce the Act in to the Assembly and the DUP refuse, the NI regional parliament is likely to collapse followed by an expected game-changing election!

In 2016, Paul Givan, then a Communities Minister, laid down a marker as to where he stands on the language when he cut funding for a project that would have seen school children attend an Irish-speaking district in the Republic of Ireland, a sectarian decision that contributed to the collapse of the Assembly in 2017.

This emerging scenario leaves the DUP in something of a political snooker! The Party, which has shown no enthusiasm for the Irish Language Act, currently has 28 seats in the Northern Ireland Assembly with Sinn Féin on 27.

It is an almost certainty that Sinn Féin will emerge as the largest Party for the first time since the creation of Northern Ireland in 1921 following the next Assembly election due to changing demographics.

Any loss of power or reduction in DUP seats would then see a move from the Jeffrey Donaldson wing of the Party to remove Poots thus increasing division within its ranks even more so!

Unionism in Northern Ireland is in deep trouble, a scenario which, 100 years on from creating the “the protestant parliament for the protestant people” currently gives it little to celebrate!

According to Arlene Foster in an interview with The Financial Times, "I think we are regressing and becoming more narrow,” she said.

“It’s quite nasty, frankly. If the union is to succeed, we need to be a bigger tent . . . The plea I would make to the party is that, if they want to secure the union, then they have to have a wide vision for the union.”

In the meantime, SNP Leader Nicola Sturgeon is expected to up the pressure in the coming months for an independence referendum in Scotland, the outcome of which could put Northern Ireland’s position within the UK in to even further peril.

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Recovery and Resilience Facility: Ireland and Sweden submit official recovery and resilience plans

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The Commission has received an official recovery and resilience plan from Ireland and Sweden. These plans set out the reforms and public investment projects that each member state plans to implement with the support of the Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF). The RRF is the key instrument at the heart of NextGenerationEU, the EU's plan for emerging stronger from the COVID-19 pandemic. It will provide up to €672.5 billion to support investments and reforms (in 2018 prices). This breaks down into grants worth a total of €312.5bn and €360bn in loans.

The RRF will play a crucial role in helping Europe emerge stronger from the crisis, and securing the green and digital transitions. The presentation of these plans follows intensive dialogue between the Commission and the national authorities of these member states over the past number of months. The Commission will assess the plans within the next two months based on the eleven criteria set out in the Regulation and translate their contents into legally binding acts. The Commission has now received 21 recovery and resilience plans from Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Spain, France, Croatia, Italy, Cyprus, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Hungary, Austria, Poland, Portugal, Slovenia, Slovakia, Finland, and Sweden. It will continue to engage intensively with the remaining Member States to help them deliver high quality plans.

A press release and a Q&A are available online.

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