The mental partitionists: Why our disinterest in the North is dangerous

This mentality is a lot more prevalent than we’d like to admit

I was out for lunch with a friend during the week. “See there’ll be an election up North?,” I asked in a vain attempt at small talk.

“Who gives a s***? It’s not our money Arlene is wasting. What do we care?” was the response. 

I wasn’t surprised by the complete lack of interest in Northern matters. It’s become a staple of any interaction I have with a lot of people from my generation about the six counties. Many of these people would say they’re nominally interested in a 32 county republic in the future but have never even visited the North. This is what I’d call a mental partitionism and it is a lot more prevalent than we’d probably care to think.

So many truly great things have been achieved on this island since the 1990s but the beautiful, dysfunctional beast that is power-sharing at Stormont is one of the best. This past week, the very idea of that has been pushed to the edge of a cliff and the reaction - or lack there of - from the average person in the Republic is a crying shame.

Do we not realise the potential panic that a return to direct rule would bring? Especially given the overriding theme of cluelessness in Theresa May’s lacklustre attempts at harnessing any sense of stability or preparation in government’s constant mishandling of Brexit.

An imbalanced or uncertain Northern Ireland is not a good thing for the Republic. It’s the last thing we need as we face into the turbulence of our post-Brexit reality.

That being said, the disinterest doesn’t just stop at the steps of Stormont. So many attempts to extend the vote in presidential elections to people in the North have been announced to much pomp before fizzling into nothing. The next Áras race is meant to happen in 2018, funnily enough a century on from the last time all people of this island were permitted to vote in a General Election that ended up creating the first Dáil.

What’s most important about this mental partitionism is the fact that it’s not just politics. Sport has so often been the great uniting force between North and South, Unionists, Nationalists and the uninterested. Whether it be the Irish rugby team, Barry McGuigan, Joey Dunlop or other great champions, our communities have had plenty to celebrate across our island.

But then we come to Carl Frampton. The fact I can imagine a lot of people mouthing ‘who?’ when Frampton’s name is mentioned is really shocking to me. 

The Belfast boxer is recognised around the world; he was named ESPN’s Fighter of the Year for 2016. He’s the second ever World Champion at two weights that this island has produced and he represented Ireland at amateur level. His mural in deeply loyalist Tiger’s Bay even shows him in a Team Ireland bib for Pete’s sake!

I’m baffled that one of the greatest athletes to come through the ranks from this island has slipped through the consciousness of a great many people. It’s not just him either.

Belfast’s Paddy Barnes, a medallist at multiple Olympic Games for Ireland, has often spoken about his difficulty in securing any sponsorship during his amateur days.

Would the same have happened to a multiple Olympic medal winner from the 26 counties? Perhaps not.

Despite all of the progress in recent decades at building a lasting peace on our island, there appears to be a lingering cultural divide. These successes should have brought all people in the Republic and Northern Ireland closer together and that’s not happening.

So before you answer any online polls about a United Ireland or dismiss stories of gridlock in the North, ask yourself do you really care about this island of ours? You might be surprised at your own answer.