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.