I visited Northern Ireland numerous times in the 1960’s most notably perhaps was a School Civics trip from my Dublin school (St Paul’s Raheney) to Stormont in early May 1968. We were sponsored by Gerry Fitt (the then leader of the SDLP) who showed us around and I remember meeting Ian Paisley who was really charming and gracious, in total contrast to the firebrand image he portrayed on Television. I can’t say I remember any of the debate, but we had some time in Belfast city centre. The overall impression was extremely positive. The roads were vastly better than in the Republic which was immediately apparent when we crossed the border. Indeed at the time the roads in the Republic were largely maintained at a county level. My maternal grandfather from Tipperary used to tease my grandmother, from Limerick, and ask her to close her eyes and guess when the county border was crossed – at the time the roads in Tipperary were much better; they lived in Galbally on the county border. I saw my first ever colour television set, and even better, I was able to stock upon Opal Fruits (Starburst), which were unavailable in the Republic due to the strict protectionism of the local confectionery industry. (I tried them last week when I was again in Belfast but they were not the same!) I also thought the Belfast trolley buses were very exciting, it was the second largest system in the UK after London at the time. (The entire trolley bus system was closed just a week or so after my visit; there was a craze in both Britain and Ireland at the time for ripping out old transport systems in the name of modernity, which in retrospect seems vandalous.) Belfast City Hall was also very impressive and Belfast in general seemed a lot more prosperous than Dublin.
I’ve studied and worked in a number of countries including the Federal Republic of Germany, the Republic of Ireland and Switzerland. In Germany referenda are banned at federal level under the 1949 Constitution. They had been used very effectively in the 1930s by Hitler and the NAZI party to subvert democracy. Right-wing populist, nationalistic and racist arguments can be very persuasive and not just in Germany. My father, Kevin Danaher, studied for his PhD from 1937 to July 1939 at the Universities of Berlin and Leipzig. He saw this first hand and was able to attend the 1938 Nuremberg Rally. He was both fascinated and frightened by the power Hitler had over the crowd; a sort of mass hypnotism. He said that you could bump into Hermann Göring most nights on the Kurfürstendamm in Berlin after drinking with his Nazi cronies at 2:00 am and that he had exchanged pleasantries with him on a number of occasions (safest to be courteous). He left Germany in July 1939 without completing his PhD.