At the height of The Troubles, the North and South were very different places. Religion was important, economies performed differently, and attitudes to life were different between the communities. As religion became less important and as the EU started to dominate, as people aged and as economies converged, difference have become a lot less. Apart from ancestry and memories, there isn’t anywhere near as much difference now. There has never been a better time for nationalists to demand a vote on a United Ireland because the opposition to it right at the moment is probably the lowest it has ever been. Most (55%) of people in the North wanted to stay in the EU, so that offsets some of the opposition to becoming part of Ireland instead of staying in a Brexit UK. For some people, especially the young, the old emotions that drove the Troubles are quite alien and Brexit could be a strong deciding factor. Many remainers have already applied for Irish passports. If a United Ireland vote were to be magically organised within a few days or weeks, (the Ukraine managed to organise a referendum in two weeks) then with today’s demographics and circumstances, it is not unimaginable that it could win.
However, not everyone is young or such a remainer that they’d rather leave the UK and stay part of the EU. Many people still feel pain from the Troubles or the same loyalties and though both sides have admirably set aside old grievances to live together in peace with one another, that doesn’t mean those grievances have vanished. People are still not all the same, they are simply managing to negotiate and compromise instead of fighting, to live in peace better. Very many of the Unionist population would still find the idea of leaving the UK and joining with the South intolerable, regardless of the EU, and forcing a vote could well re-ignite tensions. Needlessly.
Of course nationalist want a United Ireland, but it would be far better for everyone to avoid pushing such a vote yet. The Troubles were not fun for anyone, and the peace that has been established is surely worth far more even to Nationalists than getting a United Ireland a few years earlier by hurrying to capitalise on a short term turbulence during Brexit.
A few years down the road, it is highly likely that economic performance of the UK and the South will have diverged a little, but not much. It is also likely that most all the advantages offered by EU membership will have been retained. Even if it still exists, the EU will be less significant because other countries may have left, new trade agreements will have formed, and sensible negotiation of trade and movement among friends will ensure a perfectly civilized and amicable Europe. The United States of Europe idea will certainly have been long buried.
Also, in a few years time, old emotions will have had a few more years to evaporate. Many of the old will have gone to their graves in peace, young kids will be young adults. Peace and living together in harmony will have had a few more years of being the norm, and will be far more resilient. It will be a better time then to consider asking again for a vote.
Even though I lived in Belfast all the way through the Troubles, I have no axe to grind at all on which way that vote should go. I don’t even care whether Northern Ireland stays in the UK or not. It matters to some but the chances of Nationalists finally getting their way are more likely to increase than decrease over the next few years. Sure, there is strong temptation to hurry to strike while the iron is so obviously hot, but it would be wiser for them to wait just a few more years for everyone’s benefit.
Putting a hypothetical but feasible date on it, surely it’s better to aim for a peaceful United Ireland in 2025 than risk a return to violence and bad relations just to get there a little quicker?