A border poll now isn’t the right option for Irish nationalists

In the Belfast Telegraph today, I have an article outlining my thoughts on Brexit and particularly the options for Irish nationalists and republicans at this time.

I don’t believe a border poll at this time is the right call for those interested in pursuing Irish unity.

Brexit is a game-changer, particularly if it leads to Scottish independence, but it does not alter existing realities which mean that the path to Irish unity remains a longer one than that to potentially be travelled by Scottish Nationalists.

The priority objectives for Irish nationalists remain as they were before Brexit: to create the conditions, north and south, in which a unity vote can be won and a new political dispensation developed which involves sovereignty transferring from a UK context to an all-Ireland one.

Those priorities are to cultivate support for that constitutional outcome by effectively growing all-Ireland politics through the existing political institutions and in other areas of society, and to transform the northern state and society into one defined by equality and parity of esteem between the two main traditions. Creating the conditions in which a credible attempt can be made to win a border poll will also require transforming health provision in the Republic of Ireland to develop an Irish National Health Service, an aspiration of many parties in the state but one which remains elusive. It will also await nationalists settling on the place of the perpetually Irish/British hybrid state of Northern Ireland- and its power-sharing arrangements- within their vision of a united Ireland.

In short, there’s a political generation’s work to be completed before it’s truly game on for those of us desiring a united Ireland. The border poll plea in today’s context is nothing but a Hail Mary throw, serving as a distraction from the programme of work that lies ahead.

For now, the priority for Sinn Fein and the SDLP, as well as the Irish government, should be to ensure that the new post-Brexit border remains as invisible as it is today, with all that entails for trade and movement between both parts of Ireland, as well as negotiating for strengthened formal relationships between the Executive and Irish Government.

Martin McGuinness should be using his status- if not formally his office- to demand an agreed strategy with the Irish government (with or without Arlene’s approval) to protect Irish interests, whilst continuing to make the case as to why EU membership was and remains the best option for the Irish people, north and south.

Nationalists should also be lobbying intensively for the Irish government to take the relatively straightforward step of extending the franchise for the Irish Presidential election to Irish citizens residing in the north of Ireland, a move which would have the effect of quelling fears raised due to the Brexit fallout. Ironically, and somewhat intriguingly, such a move would open the prospect of a large and possibly significant pro-Union voting bloc being able to participate in the Presidential election on account of the substantial numbers of northern Irish unionists who are already beginning to avail of the option of obtaining Irish passports, one consequence of Brexit which was perhaps not envisaged before now.

  • Declan Doyle

    You seem to be suggesting we kick the can as far down the road as possible. If the North goes into further decline due to Brexit, maybe waiting is not such a good idea.

  • Msiegnaro

    If anything things are getting better since Brexit so what are you going to do now?

  • Reader

    Republican opinion on the north is divided on whether decline is a good thing or a bad thing.
    Chris has simply pointed out what I thought was obvious – a border poll right now would be a failure and everyone – especially nationalists – has better things to be doing.
    I have said here many times that the post-Brexit Irish border can and should be a soft border; Arlene’s a smart operator and in the end she will see that too. I wouldn’t want to interfere with her ability to convince her colleagues.

  • Declan Doyle

    With respect it’s a bit hard to just just two days out. No need to personalise the issue either. Discussion around a possible UI are quite reasonable given the circumstances.

  • Teddybear

    UI’ers would need to present a plausible plan for how a UI would work and be paid for and also how it would be governed, flags/anthems/emblems that all can align to.

    If it means an Ozzy style flag with a blue field, golden harp in middle and a wee Union Jack in the top left, then so be it

    This would need to be published by Irish government officials and not SF or SDLP as those parties are simply not qualified to do so.

    Al

  • chrisjones2

    I agree but a border poll doomed to failure would be mad – for all sides. SF are only calling for one so they can milk the fact that they cannot have one

  • ted hagan

    I think the Scottish independence talk is far too premature. A vote could be two to four years off at least. In that time all sorts could have happened. The economy of the UK could have settled down, the EU could be in further trouble, and there will be plenty of time for Westminster to work on the Scottish voters. In a steadier climate there is no way the SNP will call a ballot..

  • ted hagan

    Just wonderful. Republicans pondering whether economic decline might be beneficial to their cause. Let the ordinary people suffer.
    Sick minds.

  • Kevin Breslin

    We need to consider extending the franchise for the Presidency to every Irish passport holder somehow, including a few Alliance, UUP and DUP members and Concerned Britons who may be applying for it.

  • ted hagan

    Yea they’ll be queueing up to vote.

  • Jollyraj

    Indeed. The problem with a binary referendum on the constitutional status is that people may actually vote to change the status quo. As just happened – to near universal shock – here in the UK. And then comes the massive, massive task of untangling the whole mess to work out what we just voted for.

    A vote for a UI could mean ten years of pain – and that’s if it all went smoothly, which one doubts.

    But before any of that even becomes a remote possibility, the onus is on nationalists to work out what they’re actually offering with the UI. And none of them seem capable of that. On the SF side, it’s probably due to the call centre mindset for attracting new talent, not sure what’s stopping the SDLP.

  • Thanks for a very interesting read and perspective, Chris. I think you’re rather right that an Irish NHS on UK lines would be a political precondition to Nationalists being able to win a border poll. Personally I only really noticed the (interesting but small) Social Democrats pushing for it in Dáil elections.

  • ted hagan

    John Taylor today:
    “The exit of the UK from the EU will damage the Republic more than any of the other 26 EU nations. In order to secure Irish beef, lamb and dairy exports into the UK, as well as ensure there will be no barriers along the border, it would be helpful for the Republic to hold a referendum about its future with the EU.”
    Maybe canny ‘unionists’ should forget about those passport applications to their newfound chums across the border after Lord Kiljoy’s latest missive from Westminster.

  • ted hagan

    I lived in Dublin for 12 years in the Celtic Tiger era. The health service was a shambles and expensive for punters. Try getting repeat prescriptions for a child with simple conjunctiitis at 60 euro a time?
    They tried to fix the service and made it twice as bad. All sorts of models were proposed (Scandanaian, Canadian) now it’s worse than ever. Sorry can’t see it being fixed for at least a generation, and a miracle..

  • You’re probably right – though I’m a happy recent customer of Holles Street. But I do think the UK NHS (together with the economy, and peace) are high on the list of what keeps NI Catholics happier within the current border arrangement. (cf the plateau in combined SDLP/SF vote share, vs growth in the adult Catholic population)

  • hotdogx

    ted, a UI would be more popular north and south that any Irexit and you know it fine well

  • hotdogx

    I forgot to say, i agree also that there will be no UI without the proper health service, apart from that the standard of living in the republic is better.

  • hotdogx

    completely agree with you chris, lets wait and see what damage brexit does. SF shooting their mouths off as per usual

  • This waiting game approach until whatever “conditions” or “political generation’s work” are done basically means more years and decades in which the north operates a hamstrung Stormont, divvying out whatever an unmandated British government has decided hurl into our spending pot this time.

    The conflicting 55.8% NI vote to remain in the EU referendum versus the 51.9% UK-wide vote to leave is an illustration of the north’s long-standing, chronic democratic deficit. Nothing of significance will be done about this as long as we languish as miniscule bit players within the UK.

  • Teddybear

    If ROI can’t deliver an NHS now then how on earth can it for a UI proposal?

    And if they could, why can’t they deliver one now? What are they waiting for?

    Perhaps ROI should genuinely vote to leave the EU and join the UK

  • kensei

    Sf basically have to call for it, in fairness.

  • kensei

    An NHS is *not* the way to go for the Republic. You’ll never get that through – it’s a double monopoly and you’ll get resistance.

    The correct option is single payer a la Canada. The government taces and pays out all the money – its free at point of use. Those delivering are private ( or mixed) and can compete.

    An NHS is no use if jobs in NI evaporate here. Nationalism’s job is now to recreate the 55% coalition to vote for a UI. And now the EU too.

  • kensei

    There’s not gonna be aot of choice in the matter for anyone

  • kensei

    Insane.

  • kensei

    I don’t think wed win but I don’t think a border poll would do much harm; can trial arguments and set a marker.

    Nationalism should have been positioned for this event – the SNP was. We need to start getting our shit together.

  • kensei

    Apparently you don’t. You can just lie a lot.

  • Brendan Heading

    I agree with Chris (from a different starting point). I think SF are overplaying their hand here.

    An interesting thing relating to this is that, tribal and cultural issues aside, the union is, as a result of the brexit vote, weaker now in marginal terms than it has been at any time since Winston Churchill offered NI to De Valera. That is not to say it is “weak” in absolute terms; I doubt that nationalists could win a border referendum even now, as although there is a lot of certainly, it is still not clear if the UK will invoke Article 50, and if it does, what sort of deal will come out of it.

    For me personally, as confirmed constitutional fence-sitter, the weakness comes from the enthusiasm with which the DUP pushed the case for brexit. A big part of my own neutrality on the union, and my reluctance to support reunification, comes from the fact that I know how upsetting it would be to unionists and how destabilizing it would be. I’ve felt for a long time it would be disrespectful and hurtful to my fellow countrymen to yank them out of the UK through the force of simple numbers, as part of a process that they had not bought into. The DUP have shown no reciprocal understanding, no respect for my desire to be a European citizen, and absolutely no sign of an inclination that they have a responsibility to represent the entire community. They aren’t interested in trying to protect the fine balance of relationship between different parts of the community that helps to hold things together. This is a pretty straightforward slap in the face, added onto various other things they’ve done in the course of the past few years.

    I’m just waiting for a DUP politician to respond to talk of a border poll by mentioning the threat of loyalist violence.

    Another interesting detail is that SF have been asleep at the switch. They didn’t predict this outcome any more than anyone else did, and at this moment of weakness for the union they are poorly positioned to credibly capitalise on it. They have had a decade since they entered powersharing with the DUP to advance on the outreach agenda, and apart from some tokenistic but nonetheless welcome gestures by the deputy First Minister they’ve not moved far.

    If a united Ireland is going to get done, and I still think people are away ahead of themselves at this stage if they think it is, it’s not going to get done between the pages of An Phoblacht, interminable rants about everything bad the English did since the year 1200, hunger strikes commemorations, or by the sort of people who refuse to shake the hands of cadet solders, describe the Boy’s Brigade as quasi-militaristic, or protest when British servicemen are commemorated in Ireland’s national cemeteries. It’ll get done if people can be persuaded that Ireland offers a more prosperous future of the kind that people want where diverse cultural and traditional backgrounds are cherished and respected.

  • Redstar

    No Chris, in your area as we type SF are more intrested in pushing some septic deal onto the local community on behalf of their DUP senior partners. Arlene has told SF that the price for continuing to enjoy the limos expenses and trappings of power is to yet again sell out their own community and in this case allow OO parade at Ardoyne

  • Brendan Heading

    there is one thing you need to understand. Irish reunification will come at a price, just as brexit will. One of those is that the OO parade at Ardoyne will be copper fastened and guaranteed.

  • Redstar

    Surely the fact that the Irish in their own country have to ask their British overseers permission to even hold a plebiscite about Ireland shows you what a pathetic sell out deal SF settled for after the Provos surrender

  • Redstar

    If you are saying that SFs policy of sell out and appeasement is the way to go towards Irish unity the collapse in turnout for them at the polls ESP amongst younger Republicans underlines what a disaster and failure that approach has been

  • Brendan Heading

    “sell out” “appeasement” .. it’s funny how republicans and loyalists sound the same when they’re angry

  • Thomas Barber

    Teddybear do you seriously think citizens of the ROI dont get medical treatment if they dont have any money to pay for it ?

  • Redstar

    Not a matter of anger Brian more sadness in fact. SF have peaked at the polls. On the ground ESP amongst younger Republicans they are rightly seen as ageing establishment career politicos. Their roll over accept whatever their Dup senior partners say attitude underlines this.

    In this latest development it’s brought home to Republicans that what SF accepted, administering British rule in return for trappings of power by the fact that the position they accepted means they have to beg Britain to even have a poll in their own country emphasises how much they sold out and more importantly their futile position now basically as the Dups bitch.

    Believe me on the ground they do not improve that image by trying to foist OO parades where they aren’t wanted in response to Arlene publicly stating her ongoing support for the Order to march where they want .

    If they had any decency or bottle left they would get off their knees and say enough is enough. I won’t hold my breath though ….

  • eamoncorbett

    If a trade agreement cant be reached , tariffs will be imposed on exports to the Republic, these will result in a loss of revenue if not collected therefore i think mobile patrols consisting of customs and immigration officers will be required .
    If for instance a person from the South buys a TV in Newry he will pay VAT at point of sale but there could be duty payable as well which thr retailer is not oblidged to collect but is due when the TV crosses the border .
    The alternative for the UK as i understand it is pay a sum of money to the EU and agree to free movement of people , this would alleviate the need for tariffs.

  • eamoncorbett

    The question SF should be asking of the people of NI is , do you wish to (re)join the EU as the majority of you have indicated . There is a way and its very straightforward .

  • kensei

    It is just a reflection of the realities. It was put with the SoS to stop Unionism have a veto. Making it a strict majority vote in the Assembly might have been better.

  • Reader

    Remember that tariffs are collected by the buyer’s country, not the seller’s country. So, in your example, if the Republic wants to have customs posts and patrols to collect money off Christmas shoppers, that is their business. Or maybe the EU will insist that they have to do it.
    So far as the UK is concerned, the Northern Ireland market is peanuts, and the UK won’t be interested in anything less than a container load heading from Dundalk towards Larne.
    A couple of high profile confiscations will put a lid on that sort of thing.

  • kensei

    The vote will happen quickly if no alternative is found. It makes no sense for Scotland to be part of the negotiations then leave. Plus the SNP are noticeably good at politics.

  • Declan Doyle

    Glad you can apparently read their minds but you are mistaken if you think they cannot have one and clearly frightened by it.

  • Declan Doyle

    There could not be a border poll ‘right now’ but one announced for say two years or one year from now is not an unreasonable ask. If Unionists are so confident why not go for it

  • I suspect Sinn Féin’s calls for a border poll will not amount to much. Villiers has ruled it out, Kenny has displayed where Fine Gael’s priorities are, saying that there’s “more serious issues”, and I’m yet to hear the SDLP say anything explicitly about such a poll.

    I don’t claim there’d be a victory for Irish unity either, but I’d rather at least have the chance, regardless of whether it’s a winnable outcome, to vote for it in a referendum sooner rather than later. I also like the idea of setting a marker in seeing where exactly the unity agenda is right now.

  • Zig70

    Have you no comprehension of the opinion of Southern Irish on being ruled by the English, they’d rather stick with the Germans.

  • John Collins

    They do and an OAP couple gets £3,000 a year more than their NI counterparts and Social Welfare Recipients also do far better that in NI. BTW OAPs had free travel in the South decades before they got it in the North.

  • John Collins

    Paddy
    There would be a far better Health Service in the South if we paid every OAP couple £3,000 a year less as they do in NI and paid the equally low rates as they do to Social Welfare Recipients.

  • Paddy Reilly

    As I see it, we have to wait to see what Scotland does. If they decide to quit the United Kingdom for the EU, then there are three contiguous states all of which have a majority in favour of EU membership, the Irish Republic, Northern Ireland and Scotland. These should all band together to form a common travel area. The first major EU backed project would be the building of a bridge between North Antrim and the Mull of Kintyre.

    The Six Counties would initially remain a separate entity to the Republic, but when, in a couple of years, it becomes obvious that a majority favour the measure, the division could be voted out of existence.

  • Zig70

    Depressing piece, lacking ambition, a nationalist malaise. The English just voted for a step into the dark based mainly on the sentiment that they are best placed to make their own decisions. By what basis does Villiers make her decision? A poll in a unionist newspaper and a state tv survey? The opinion of a little englandeer right wing SOS? My survey says we want out but we are hamstrung by fear in the south of a terrorist state and political blindness in the north to see a path that works for the majority of nationalists here. There is no game changer, there won’t be any hard border because free movement of Europeans will remain post negotiations on access to the eu market. The only loser is Cameron. He always was a plank.

  • Paddy Reilly

    “since Winston Churchill offered NI to De Valera”

    Churchill did not offer NI to De Valera. In return for the Free State rescinding its neutrality and exposing its undefended cities to the Luftwaffe, he offered a statement in favour of a United Ireland at the end of the war, which there would be no mechanism to enforce and which would obviously be abandoned due to Unionist pressure.

    This is why De Valera declined the offer. Having already been cheated over the Treaty’s Border Commission, it was now obvious how British diplomacy worked. In any case, feeling against participation was so strong in Saorstát Éireann it is quite unlikely that De Valera’s whim would prevail.

  • John Collins

    Brendan
    In fairness ‘simple numbers’ are how Brexit is forced on 48.1% of UK electorate against their wishes. It is called democracy.

  • John Collins

    JR
    51,9% voted for it. How can that translate to ‘near universal shock’ in the UK itself where the % vote for ‘out’ was actually higher. Does this not show that reasonably well off people like you, and indeed myself, are often totally out of touch with how other sections of society are coping or thinking. I agree with your main point above however. Both ends of the island needs to work together in promoting trade and tourism etc and co operation where possible in areas like education, research health and other areas, which might be of mutual benefit. And after many years when mutual trust and prosperity is built up, maybe a UI could be envisaged. I certainly do not expect to see it in my lifetime. However SFs approach will get us all nowhere fast.

  • notimetoshine

    Calling for a border poll (and any resultant poll that might happen) appears to me to be a shrewd tactical move on the part of SF. It’s fairly obvious that even with brexit there isn’t going to be a united Ireland any time soon, the divisions in NI still remain but they have now just been heightened with brexit. I doubt that SF seriously believe that conditions are right in political, economic, social and security terms

    However even an unsuccessful poll could do wonders for the nationalist parties much like the Scottish referendum did for Scottish nationalism. Nationalism as has been pointed out on slugger post election, has become anaemic and sluggish, with falling voter turn outs and uninspiring party leaders and policies. A border poll or even a huge campaign for one would do much to energise the nationalist electorate, nationalist political ideology and the parties that espouse it. I’m sure SF know what they are doing, they are nothing if not shrewd operators.

  • Teddybear

    Then please correct me then. Is there a NHS in RoI? I can drive to Letterkenny General and find out in person

  • NotNowJohnny

    This is what 97% of Irish people in the south and 71% in the north voted for. It is a principle in the agreement which the Irish state agreed with the British. The idea that this was solely a SF decision is ludicrous. Claiming it was makes you look foolish.

  • NotNowJohnny

    John Taylor is clearly out of touch with reality. And not for the first time.

  • murdockp

    Nationalists will not need to win the border poll, that baton has been passed to the pro Europeans instead.

  • LiamÓhÉ

    Yes, people should look more at the SNP, talking of a referendum on FRIDAY, summoning ministers for a meeting today, and moving fast to seize the opportunity. If they wait and let it slowburn its ‘natural way’ they know it will peter out. A lot of people seem to think their long-term goals will simply materialise organically!

  • kensei

    The EU will insist. Do I even need to explain why?

    Aye, smuggling never happened over the border either. You’ve just given a range more options than diesel. Great show!

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    “SF turn a lot of people off and this issue opens up an avenue where other groups can probably be brought on board as long as it doesn’t end up covered in Republican iconography.”

    Spot on Neil, spot on.

  • Jag

    One thing to agree with Chris on, when the now near-certainty of Scottish independence comes about, and NI football fans need passports and visas to watch Celtic and Rangers matches, the penny may well drop. Everything changed on Friday, the union is shattered.

    I still think there needs to be a reunification poll now, and it’s a subversion of democracy to deny the people the chance to vote, whatever way. If reunification doesn’t come about today, then it surely will in the next Poll in 2023.

  • Reader

    kensei, as the Frenchwoman said to the interviewer in the unrepeatable old joke: “I understand the situation; I just don’t see the problem”
    Firstly, if the EU insists on the RoI setting up border posts and revenue patrols in the 26 counties, I don’t care. Enforce it; ignore it; complain to the Dail; complain to the EU; leave the EU – it’s all entirely your business.
    There won’t be huge smuggling traffic into the mainland UK using Ireland as a transhipment highway because the tariffs, the costs, the risks, and the trivial marginal benefit in price will not make it worthwhile.
    As a side effect, Northern Ireland will benefit from effectively free trade in low volume items, and Westminster just won’t care because that part of the market is so small.

  • Dassa

    But why does an increase in desire for Irish Passports suddenly mean a big desire for a UI? As a pro European I may well get an Irish passport, but it will be for logistical reasons, not some changing desire in my heart for my country NI to disappear.

  • eamoncorbett

    Yes you are correct but the facility has to be there North and South to collect tariffs because there will be no obligation to even charge VAT on invoices from now on as the old rules will no longer apply . If say a truck load of computer parts from Leixlip were to be exporterd through Larne at the moment the sender would only be obliged to charge VAT , in two years time it is possible that all import charges due will have to collected at the EU border in this instance the Irish border , there would have to be some kind of checks to see that all taxes were first of all charged and secondly paid.

  • Brendan Heading

    No, democracy is not simply a matter of who has the majority.

  • Jollyraj

    A vote now on Nexit would be a ridiculous idea – yet more chaos to add to an already turbulent situation.

  • Jollyraj

    Cart before the horse. Again.

    We’ve just learned what a disaster a referendum can be when there is no clear plan for what happens if the people vote yes. There are few indications a border poll would have any chance whatever of succeeding for you – just cause even more instability.

    The task for nationalists is to come up with a plausible model for a UI – then ask for a vote. Otherwise, as it seems NI Republicans are too lazy/ clueless to do that, you’re really just wasting everyone’s time

    ‘Even though we’ve absolutely no idea what it would be like, do you favour a UI?’

    Uhm…no, thanks.

  • Jollyraj

    Agreed. To call for a Nexit vote at this point would be lunacy. Perhaps Gerry has finally lost it?

  • John Collins

    Brendan
    Oh yes I know, as most people do, that a democracy is judged on how it treats its minorities, but overall the winner takes the spoils.

  • John Collins

    Funny old week. Friday England votes the UK, against the wishes of Scotland, NI and Gibraltar, out of the EU and tonight Iceland, with one top level professional player and the smallest population of any country to ever qualify for the competition, knock them out of Europe.

  • John Collins

    Is it not remarkable that one of the main arguments being used against the influx of emigrants to England was that the hospitals, medical service in general and the countries schools could not cope with them. So the NHS and other services may not as comprehensive as you claim.

  • John Collins

    There was a day when the majority of ROI exports were beef, lamb and dairy products and indeed we still export a lot to the UK. However at 40% of our exports the British market is now much lower that it once was. I think John Taylor’s assessment is just a bit simplistic.

  • ted hagan

    I think he’s trying to stir it/ He’s an arrogant chump

  • Msiegnaro

    Europe and the EU are completely different.
    Just to add England and Wales voted the UK out of the EU with strong support in NI and even Scotland although the latter two had a majority favouring “remain”.

  • Msiegnaro

    Or what improvements Brexit brings.