Every country has its political mood music: ready made for party conference sing-alongs. Whatever the blather talked about the border in the past fortnight we shouldn’t forget that, along with the cúpla focail in speeches, this is all that a united Ireland is to politics in the South. Hum along, but not so much that people might think you were a bore.
What people in London - and Belfast - forget is that in reality the Republic of Ireland is a partitionist state, just as much as the North. And Sinn Féin aside politicians on the whole see a united Ireland as dangerous, disruptive, economically catastrophic and politically destabilising. Who knows: maybe a few Shinners see it that way as well. Push too hard a UI would be just like Brexit is proving to be for Britain’s Eurosceptic Bullshiteers. To say the least you have to be very optimistic about the problems to think it would be easy.
Irish politicians would be mad to actually work towards a united Ireland. Unless that is it they were left without a choice. One thing English commentators have never understood is that the Irish state always saw Republican political violence as an existential threat. The Troubles never posed such a political threat to the UK as a whole, and nor did Loyalist violence pose such a threat in to the Republic. The post-Good Friday Agreement border, with its almost complete free movement is first and foremost a solution to that threat. It kills IRA violence ‘with kindness’; it reassures Unionists enough; and it lets Dublin get on with its core business of attracting international investment capital. Dublin is a steward of the GFA, not as a stepping stone to its own demise but as a bulwark against it.
This is why the border’s economics and trade flows are secondary: because the border, as barely a border, is integral to the Irish state.