A nation once again

16.10.14: IRELAND is to be reunited at last. In a referendum in Northern Ireland, 61% voted to join the republic.

A majority for union was widely expected, as the 2011 census showed that Catholics were close to outnumbering Protestants. That alone did not explain the size of the majority, however. Exit polls suggested that almost one-third of northern Protestants also voted for unification.

Although the republic's period as Europe's "tiger" economy had ended soon after the recession in the year 2000, the subsequent recovery had been strong. But Northern Ireland has remained a depressed backwater.

A united Ireland became all but inevitable when London asked Dublin to share the cost of subsidising the North's struggling economy. The Irish government agreed, but in return demanded a say in how the money was spent. For all practical purposes, Northern Ireland ceased to be part of Britain six months ago.

The secularisation of the republic made unification easier. By 2012 the Irish constitution had been changed and laws on birth control, abortion and divorce brought it into line with the rest of Europe.

David Trimble, at 72 the grand old man of Unionism, called on his followers to accept unity.

However, Gerry Adams, president for life of Sinn Fein, said the fight for civil rights across Ireland would continue. Sinn Fein would seek recompense from Britain for "years of repression suffered by people of the Six Counties". DS/PK