Market views on Irish unity

By Shane Harrison
BBC NI Dublin correspondent

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Image source, Francesco Scatena
Image caption,
Is a united Ireland now being given serious consideration by people south of the border?

This time last year few people in the Republic of Ireland were giving any thought to the idea of re-unification.

Then along came Brexit and the recent Assembly elections, where unionists lost their majority.

So, is a united Ireland now being given serious consideration by people south of the border?

The 12th century Kilkenny Castle, overlooking the river Nore, plays host to a farmers' market every Thursday.

Talking to stall holders and customers, there is a awareness of the debate.

Image caption,
Financing a united Ireland is a concern for some

An awareness - but not a strong interest.

And a lot of that is down to the potential cost of subsidising Northern Ireland - officially nine billion pounds a year - although Sinn Féin dispute that figure.

Gerard Casey, an artist and a lecturer, wandering around the market says it is a case of aspiration and reality colliding.

Image caption,
Josephine Lysaght says she would be happy to accept a tax hike

"I think we in the Republic would possibly like the idea of a united Ireland, but in terms of finance and so on I don't think it's a runner really," he adds.

It is a view shared by Michael Hogan, a retired publican, who says: "In the short term people are very conscious of us coming out of a recession and coming out of the hard times we've been through. So, I'm not sure people would be prepared to put their hand in their pocket."

Josephine Lysaght, a spelt baker, says: "Personally I would handle a small bit of a tax increase, but we're in a high taxed country anyway.

"So, I'd imagine it's going to cause a problem."

Peter Gibson, who sells his pies at the market, is of a similar view.

He says: "I don't think a united Ireland is on in practical terms but certainly in theoretical terms most people would favour it."

Image caption,
One stallholder drew comparisons with the re-unification of Germany

But when asked whether he thinks people would pay higher taxes for it he says: "I'd say it's a bit like in Germany.

"They'd probably pay for it in the short term but suffer in the medium term."

As it happens there's a stall holder, originally from East Germany.

Klaus Hartmann describes himself as a potter who specialises in ceramics.

He says German unification was much more expensive than originally thought but worthwhile and now universally accepted.

"There's no question about it to me but that it was worth it. I think nobody regrets that at all though they didn't know the full implications of it," he says.

Image caption,
The debate on a united Ireland is just beginning

"What it cost is just a fraction of what they thought."

The cost debate is, of course, purely theoretical.

And many here believe that if there ever was a united Ireland the UK and the EU would be asked to contribute financially.

But Lucy Glendinning, a customer at the market, believes a united Ireland is something worth paying higher taxes for.

She says: "We probably could afford it. We bailed out the banks by billions and continue to do so. So, we can bail out people and help people as well."

The united Ireland debate that is only now beginning here.

How seriously it gets will definitely depend on where a majority in Northern Ireland sees its future.

And that in turn may well depend on how Brexit proceeds.