In the aftermath of the Scottish referendum, Sinn Fein have renewed their push for a border poll here. The party’s MP for Newry and Armagh, Conor Muprhy writes for Slugger making the case for holding a poll and Irish unity.
On the 18th of September the people of Scotland exercised their democratic voice on the future of the Scottish Nation. Throughout the referendum the people of Scotland engaged in an informed and respectful debate and they have now made their choice. The Scottish referendum and subsequent decision demonstrates that the people are sovereign and that change is possible.
The turnout in the referendum in Scotland demonstrated the power of engagement and democracy.
The British Prime Minister David Cameron has promised that powers to be transferred to Scotland would also be extended to the Stormont Executive. We need to ensure that this promise is delivered.
Sixteen years ago the Good Friday Agreement was endorsed by the vast majority of people on this island. The Agreement delivered power-sharing institutions and interdependent all-Ireland structures putting the principle of equality at the heart of politics. The Agreement provides the ground rules for peaceful and democratic constitutional change through concurrent Border Polls north and south.
Irish unity is now achievable through peaceful and democratic means now in the ownership of the people north and south free from external interference. The days of Maggie Thatcher’s ‘Out, Out, Out’ and Ian Paisley’s ‘Never, Never, Never, Never’ are over.
The British Government and Political Unionist veto on change is now gone. Those in favour of the status quo must prove the case to retain partition.
The challenge has been put to republicans to outline the detail of what a unified state would look like, how it would operate and even what flag would be flown.
The starting point for the debate is whether Irish unity or continued partition makes sense in the 21st century. Is the interest of the people best served by a truly national and representative democracy or continuing as a peripheral issue in Westminster?
The next question, if Irish unity is agreed is the type of Ireland the people want.
The type of nation building and island wide reconciliation that Sinn Féin is working towards is not about grafting the north onto the current political, cultural and economic status quo of the south.
Nor are we interested in simple majorities in which the winner takes all. We are seeking new, agreed and united Ireland not just for republicans but for all of us who share this island.
We want to build a just, fair and equal Ireland. An economically, socially and culturally diverse Ireland. The Border Poll is only one step within the process of nation building and reconciliation.
Following agreement on constitutional change there would be a process of constitutional discussion and transition. The process of national reconciliation would of course parallel and extend beyond all of this.
Identity, Flag and Emblems
The Good Friday Agreement makes clear that regardless of outcome of a Border Poll there will be;
‘full respect for, and equality of, civil, political, social and cultural rights, of freedom from discrimination for all citizens and of parity of esteem and of just and equal treatment for the identity, ethos, and aspirations of both communities’
This binding commitment must shape and inform the debate on building an inclusive united Ireland. Symbols and emblems must reflect our society and diverse identities.
Many aspects of constitutional and political change will need to be discussed and agreed. This process will represent challenges to all sections of the community including republicans.
We want to build an inclusive unified Ireland that can claim the allegiance of all and exclude none.
United Ireland Economy
Let’s be clear, simply maintaining the status quo in the form of two separate competing economies on a tiny island will not deliver prosperity for the people of this island.
There are no advantages for an island nation of 6.4 million people on the edge of Europe having separate tax regimes, regulatory and legal systems, disparate economic development agencies and programmes, divergent and competing investment strategies and economic policies. Harmonised policies, laws and structures across the island is central to creating a fully integrated and healthy economy.
A united Ireland government would provide a single, focused and democratically accountable policy to manage the economy and provide for fair progressive taxation, regulation and trade. It would provide the tools to create greater opportunities for growth and employment by creating a better business climate for advancement of entrepreneurial spirit north and south.
The northern economy is peripheral to both the British Economy and the political machinations of Westminster. Economic policy developed in London has been driven by the needs of Britain or as the Scottish people have said the British economy is driven by the needs of England or London. It is certainly not driven by the needs of the people of Ireland north and south. The debate on EU membership, the British HGV levy, and the current welfare cuts agenda represent but a few examples of British policy development that has ignored the needs of the people of the north.
It’s time unionism stopped hiding behind the word subvention and begin the debate as to how we grow the economy for the benefit of all.
We want Ireland, North and South to be self-sustaining in terms of economy and public services. We believe that the economy can and should grow significantly when the costs of partition are removed and the full potential of an integrated island economy is unleashed.
Public Services in a United Ireland
A strong economy can support comprehensive public services. A new agreed and United Ireland will allow for the development of fully integrated public services throughout this island for the benefit of all citizens.
For example we could transform how we deliver health services across the island. The total spend per capita within the current overall health system in the south is more than the per capita spend in the north or in Britain. With vision, commitment and determination we could deliver better services to all the people of Ireland.
Sinn Féin has called for a Border poll to be conducted in the next political term. We are not seeking a sectarian headcount but an informed, reasoned and respectful dialogue.
The Scottish people have led the way on this and shown clearly that it is possible to have a respectful and democratic debate and referendum.
The question of Irish Unity is about a fundamental democratic choice for us all. Is an all-Ireland government representative of all the people best placed to deliver prosperity, equality and reconciliation or should that ultimately rest with an unaccountable and unelected government in Westminster.