The Deputy First Minister seems to have changed the Sinn Fein position of achieving a United Ireland by 2016, amending their pledge to that of referendum in 2016 or shortly after, in an article in today’s Irish Examiner Martin states
“It just seems to me to be a sensible timing. It would be on the question of whether or not the people of the Six Counties wish to retain the link with what is described as the United Kingdom, or be part of a united Ireland. It could take place anytime between 2016 or 2020-21,”
However as the article goes on to point out the decision to hold such a poll does not rest with the Assembly or Executive even with DUP agreement, but with the Secretarty of State, and if remaining true to the Agreement it can only be called when certain conditions prevail, to refresh your memory here is the relevant sections-
1. (1) It is hereby declared that Northern Ireland in its entirety remains part of the United Kingdom and shall not cease to be so without the consent of a majority of the people of Northern Ireland voting in a poll held for the purposes of this section in accordance with Schedule 1.
(2) But if the wish expressed by a majority in such a poll is that Northern Ireland should cease to be part of the United Kingdom and form part of a united Ireland, the Secretary of State shall lay before Parliament such proposals to give effect to that wish as may be agreed between Her Majesty’s Government in the United Kingdom and the Government of Ireland.
1. The Secretary of State may by order direct the holding of a poll for the purposes of section 1 on a date specified in the order.
2. Subject to paragraph 3, the Secretary of State shall exercise the power under paragraph 1 if at any time it appears likely to him that a majority of those voting would express a wish that Northern Ireland should cease to be part of the United Kingdom and form part of a united Ireland.
The onus is therefore on Sinn Fein to convince the SoS that such a majority is likely to exist within the next 4 years, an uphill task considering the most generous reading has a Nationalist vote at an average 42% (a level which hasn’t changed for the last decade) and many indications that many of these voters would not vote for a United Ireland when the time came. Therefore know all these facts as well as any of us do, is there not a case that raising possibility of a referendum is false, destabilising and in breach of the spirit of the Good Friday Agreement that Sinn Fein negotiated?