An united Ireland v a shared Island – how the messaging is changing

Embed from Getty Images

For anyone following Irish politics, Budget 2021 was announced on Tuesday. In it, something very interesting occurred – €500m was allocated to the ‘Shared Island’ initiative intended to support cross-border co-operation, joint infrastructure projects and all-Ireland education, health, tourism and climate action projects. This came on the back of the creation of a ‘Shared Island Unit’ established by the new Government which will be managed within the Taoiseach’s Department (the Irish equivalent to Downing Street). It is not the investment that’s of interest, it’s that over the last few months, the language has moved from ‘An United Ireland’ to a ‘Shared Island’ very quickly.

For us political nerds, it is a fascinating example of how framing the message can create shuttle shifts in tones and outcomes. A Shared Island appreciates that there are different communities living on the island with different identities and values. It’s a practical approach allowing these communities to work together. It’s not a constitutional issue.

Covid has significantly highlighted the need for the island to work together. The virus does not recognize borders. With NI political leaders looking across the Irish Sea for its public health guidance rather than agreeing a coordinated plan with the Irish authorities, the virus has mocked the border. There are similarities made between the island of Ireland and New Zealand frequently but it is impossible to deliver the same results while two jurisdictions work independently from each other. The opportunity to take advantage of being an island lost.

The creation of a Shared Island Unit in Dublin, Unionists have already stated is not something they fear because it poses no constitutional risk to them. Remove the nationalistic undertones of an United Ireland, this is something that they can work with. It is building upon the all-island approach advocated in the Good Friday Agreement. Tourism Ireland, for example, was established to promote the island of Ireland abroad to overseas visitors. Many sports such as rugby, cycling, box and golf all operate on an island basis. This is progress that we share as an island. This is what the Irish political establishment has been working. Brexit escalated matters but Covid made it imperative.

This is a case of watch this space! While Dublin works towards collaboration to protect the Peace Process, Downing Street works towards celebrating the 100th anniversary of the creation of Northern Ireland. This in itself risking reigniting old arguments, the things we’ve tried to move away from. Without cross party support, it will be difficult to see this not ending well. Language is such an important element of conflict resolution. The potential for this to inflame tensions again are real.

If you want to read up more on this, I would recommend the ‘Shared Island’ series that the Irish Times has online for further reading.


* Audrey Eager, Founder of Liberal Irish, the Irish Liberal Democrat Society. If you’d like to join our mailing list, contact us on [email protected]

Read more by or more about or .
This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Is it not time to let the public ,voter notice that we are not just ‘English’ but are also represented in other countries . We can then show a rival philosophy that is at, the moment riding roughshod ove r the Planet.?

  • Nom de Plume 17th Oct '20 - 10:07am

    Good article in the The Irish Times. I don’t closely follow what is happening across the Irish Sea but have bookmarked that page. I would advise against a border poll until there is clear majority in favour of reunification. Whether that is sooner or later, will depend on the outcome of Brexit as well as the speed of demographic change in NI. I doubt the present UK government would allow a vote.

  • Thank you for this.
    I find this approach very interesting. It is indeed a good example of framing and the use of framing in political discussion.
    I have been thinking recently about the last visit I made to Northern Ireland – and the fact that since I usually used a card to pay for things meant that I did not need to think about what country I was in, as I visited both parts of the island.
    At the moment I am told there is a border a few miles away from my house in England. It seems I am not supposed to cross it.

  • Peter Hirst 19th Oct '20 - 4:20pm

    It is an interesting word to use regardless of whether it is intended to be a temporary or permanent one. If a Federal Ireland comes into being then the more cooperation and sharing before that the easier the transition will be. I suspect it is seen in Ireland as pointing the way rather than a new arrangement.

Post a Comment

Lib Dem Voice welcomes comments from everyone but we ask you to be polite, to be on topic and to be who you say you are. You can read our comments policy in full here. Please respect it and all readers of the site.

To have your photo next to your comment please signup your email address with Gravatar.

Your email is never published. Required fields are marked *

Please complete the name of this site, Liberal Democrat ...?


Recent Comments

  • Roland
    @Alex Macfie “ this should not distract us from the reality that after the 2015GE we had a Tory-only … government. … it means that what happened since th...
  • David Brunnen
    Thanks Steve ‘marvellous match’ Trevethan - making a monetary bonfire will require a good many sparks and the patience to keep the fire going! Right now th...
  • David Allen
    Davey - Making Sunak look dry!...
  • Alex Macfie
    @Former Dem: Nick Clegg has left active UK politics, along with most of his Coalition-era entourage. Bringing him into the discussion at all suggests an agenda ...
  • Chris Moore
    No, expats, that wouldn't get us any coverage at all. And it's a total travesty to say all we get is gimmicks. In reality, we've done well the first few ...