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

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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.

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