Why would London be so keen to solve the 'Irish question' after all these years? In Thatcher's day, the government fought to hang on to the six counties with a rabid intensity, and yet today, the powers that be are pushing the DUP to reach an accord with their despised Catholic enemies.
There are several old adages that might apply, but the fact that there is no free lunch is the most pertinent. No, nothing's free, as everything comes at a cost that someone has to meet. Thus far, it's the British taxpayer who's been meeting some high costs, and clearly they are not happy.
The north of Ireland is booming, relatively speaking. It's a growth region in the United Kingdom, the fifth largest, and the price of property is shooting through the roof. Residents hoping to buy in Belfast are getting more and more frustrated as the price of a house keeps escalating beyond their reach. For someone owning a home on the market, it's all good news, of course.
Economists are looking at a slightly different picture than that painted by headlines and sound bytes. What is at the basis of this boom, they ask, and they have discovered a house of rather flimsy cards.
For all intents and purposes, the north does not have a private sector. What is there is so small in size that it holds little hope of attracting foreign investment, being comprised largely of firms that employ no more than ten people. You won't find an American venture capitalist looking to sink millions into someone's chip shop or Chinese take-away. That's nothing to build a future on.
So where do most people work? They work for the government. The north is a land of civil servants, and civil servants are paid out of other people's taxes. London is moving to ease the tax burden on the voting public, and that means jobs in the north are going to be lost in the budget cutting process.
As the civil servants seek new employment, they won't find anything because there is no private sector out there, looking for new hires. With a slashed budget, the local government units will not have enough to spread around if they are going to take care of education and health, so analysts expect that economic development will have to take a back seat to more urgent needs.
Philip McDonagh of PricewaterhouseCoopers in Belfast does not offer a very rosy picture. He describes a community that plays it safe, avoids risk, and that is exactly the opposite sort of mentality that is needed to grow a private sector economy. As the public arena shrinks, the pool of unemployed will grow, but those same people are so averse to taking a flier that they won't think to start up their own business. The end result will be a smaller public sector, and a ballooning rate of unemployment.
Just as London cuts the budget for civil servants in the north of Ireland, the live register will begin to expand and the cost of public assistance will climb. No savings there for the average British citizen, with money going from one pocket to the other but never leaving the pants. The real solution is to get rid of the whole outfit, pockets and trousers and all. Cut out the excess civil servants, cut out the unemployed and their benefits, and Westminster can show some real progress on the bottom line.
Bit by bit, London is going to get rid of the Six Counties now that the colony has become a loss leader. There will be a united Ireland one day, because it's just too expensive to keep it separated.