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Column: It's wrong to limit the debate over Anglo-Irish relations to partition alone

Gerry Adams is wrong to say that the time for a new Anglo-Irish relationship is now; the relationship has already been changing, writes Ryan Gray.

Ryan Gray

IN AN ARTICLE for TheJournal.ie that can be found here, Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams wrote a very interesting piece arguing that “It’s time to define an entirely new relationship between Ireland and Britain”. In case you haven’t read the article, I shall give you a brief synopsis: Mr Adams argues that President Michael D Higgins should use his visit to Britain this year to change Anglo-Irish relations to one based on “equality and mutual respect”. While it is obviously welcoming to hear an individual who has had a huge impact on both Britain and Ireland in recent decades call for a change from the ‘troubled history’ of the past, he is wrong; this change has been underway for some time now.

For several years, we have seen the relationship between the two countries change significantly from an awkward alliance to a proud friendship. Arguably this is the untold story of Kenny’s and Cameron’s leaderships, one that must be applauded. Mr Higgins’ visit is significant because it highlights how far relations have come – more so than how far they still have to go.

Interlinked economies

For years the two economies have been interlinked. A joint-economic study from June of last year highlighted just how reliant both countries are on one another. The UK’s largest export market is Ireland and Ireland’s largest export market is the UK. In fact, Ireland’s agri-food sector exports more to the UK than it does to all of the remaining EU Member States combined. This is why when an individual like Eamon Gilmore says a UK exit from the European Union would be bad for the two countries’ relations, the British public listens.

It is not only in pure statistics that positive relations can be seen. From Queen Elizabeth’s historic trip to Ireland last year where she said the words “A Uachtaráin agus a chairde” (President and friends), to David Cameron’s apology over Bloody Sunday, we have seen a much more mature relationship develop. Such a change can also be seen in the decision to allow the Olympic torch to pass through Dublin. A decision could have been made to have the torch stop at the borders and very few would have thought much of it, but instead a decision was made to have the torch travel south of the border.

More examples can be found throughout the past few years. In 2010 when British Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne offered a bi-lateral loan worth £7 billion and declared ‘Ireland is a friend and we’re here to help’, the British public did not bat an eyelid. At a time when Britain was refusing to enter bailout negotiations over Greece, it was more than ready to help its closest neighbour, and so it should be.

It is not only in politics that a feel-good factor can be felt, the populations of both countries also show just how much influence the countries have on one another. Currently there are over 329,000 Brits living in Ireland while it is estimated that as many as six million people living in the UK have an Irish grandparent (close to almost 10 per cent of the UK population). I myself am one of the many people living in either UK or Ireland that holds dual nationality. At the time when immigration is a key concern in the UK, even leader of the BNP Nick Griffin is welcoming of the Irish.

Limiting the debate

I have a lot of respect for Mr Adams – whether you like him or loathe him, he is undoubtedly one of the biggest political figures of his generation – but I feel he is wrong to limit the debate over Anglo-Irish relations to just partition. While it is a key issue that has to be discussed, it is one of many factors to consider when evaluating the growing relationship between Ireland and Britain. In basing your opinion of the relationship among the two countries purely on partition, you ignore all the achievements both countries have made.

Relations between the two nations are at a historic high, and at a time when both countries are comfortable and confident in their own skins, this is fantastic news for all. With the centenary of the First World War this year, and the centenary of the Easter Rising in two years, such a positive growing relationship could not be needed more. Such a relationship looks to only get better, which is good for all of us, whether you live north or south of the border, or in England, Scotland or Wales.

Ryan Gray works as an advisor/counsellor, drug campaigner and trustee. He is currently running as a Conservative Party Candidate in British local elections and can be found on Twitter as @RyanDMGray.

Gerry Adams: It’s time to define an entirely new relationship between Ireland and Britain

Read: Ireland and the UK are planning closer economic cooperation

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Ryan Gray

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