Leo Varadkar: “we need to build more bridges and fewer borders”

Leo Varadkar TD delivered a robust but polite lecture at Queen’s University Belfast this morning, his first public engagement in Northern Ireland in his new role as Taoiseach.

The artfully crafted speech quoted local poets and Winston Churchill as well as ending with a positive story that echoed something he’d recently heard Jeffrey Donaldson say in Dublin.

This was not a speech that intended to be divisive. It offered a partial policy framework, but very little in the way of absolute red lines or dogmatic solutions. However, they were definitely not the words of a political pushover.

After name-checking Mary McAleese, John Larkin, Edward Carson, Seamus Heaney and Game of Thrones, he explained:

“If politics is about the art of the possible, then art is about imagining the impossible. We need both in our lives and in our society in order to achieve real progress. We need to be able to imagine the impossible, and then try to make it a reality. And we should never fear to hope for ways that may seem impossible today.”

He paid tribute to QUB’s former Vice Chancellor, Prof Patrick Johnston an referenced visiting Belfast on 1 July 2016 to lay a wreath at the Belfast Cenotaph.

“Later I wrote in the Irish Independent that real unity comes from respecting different traditions and values, not by trying to obliterate them. Our differences make us stronger and our diversity is our strength. That remains my view today as Taoiseach. In looking to the future, I believe we must look upon this island with fresh eyes and consider what it means to us all.”

The Taoiseach looked back at the border as it was in 1979 when he was born.

“Back then, south of the border was a very different place, a very different country to what it is today – confessional, inward looking and underdeveloped by Western European standards. The border itself was a very different place, a place of bloodshed and violence, of checkpoints. A barrier to trade, prosperity and peace. A brutal physical manifestation of historic divisions and political failure.”

He reflected on “being European”.

“I passionately believe that being European is an essential part of the modern Irish identity, an enhancement not a dilution of who we are. In my opinion, it is a tragedy of the Brexit debate that it appears that this common European identity is not valued by everyone on these islands.

“The Ulster poet John Hewitt famously spoke of his multiple identities – as an Ulsterman of planter stock, as Irish, as British and as European. He believed that we all have multiple identities, it’s what makes us what we are.

“This is a strength, not a weakness; an opportunity, not a threat. It is something we should embrace about ourselves and about others, not something we should see as an impurity or a means of exclusion. It is at the very heart of the Good Friday Agreement – the right of the people of Northern Ireland to be British, or Irish, or both. And, of course, the right to be European.”

Remarking on the “competing identities, competing cultures, even competing histories” that are “used to define ourselves and to define our neighbours” he cited the former British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill:

“To cling to what Churchill memorably described – a century ago – as the integrity of our quarrel. We should remember that Churchill believed we needed to walk together in mutual comprehension.”

Borrowing Michel Barnier’s phrase that “the clock is ticking”, the Irish Taoiseach said that “the challenge in our generation is Brexit”.

“Every single aspect of life in Northern Ireland could be affected by the outcome – jobs and the economy, the border, citizens rights, cross border workers, travel, trade, agriculture, energy, fisheries, aviation, EU funding, tourism, public services, the list goes on.

“In October, I will sit around the European Council table with 26 other Prime Ministers and we will decide together whether sufficient progress has been made on three key issues to allow the Brexit negotiations to proceed to the next phase.

“Those three key issues are citizens’ rights, the financial settlement and issues relating to Ireland. It will be a historic meeting for this island. It is my fervent hope that progress will have been made, but I do not underestimate the challenges we face.

“For our part, the Irish Government will discharge our responsibilities as co-guarantors of the Good Friday Agreement. We will do all we can, in Brussels, in London and in Dublin, to achieve the best outcome for everyone on this island – to protect our peace, our freedom, our rights, and our prosperity.”

Varadkar said that he shared a common view with the First Ministers in Scotland and in Wales in favouring the UK remaining in the single market and a customs union. However he asked:

“… who we – and others in Europe – talk to in Belfast?”

On the border:

“It will come as no surprise to anyone here that I do not want there to be an economic border on our island nor do I want one between Ireland and Britain. By economic border, I am not talking about currency or variation in tax rates. I am talking about a barrier to free trade and commerce.

“Indeed, last November the North South Ministerial Council – which included the DUP, Sinn Féin and the Government that I now lead – said exactly that, agreeing four principles:

1. Recognition of the unique circumstances of Northern Ireland, bearing in mind its geography and history;

2. Ensuring that the treaties and agreements between Ireland and the UK are fully taken into account;

3. Protecting the free movement of people, goods, capital and services, and

4. Maintaining the economic and social benefits of co-operation.”

He challenged advocates of a “hard Brexit” (which he characterised as people who “people who do want a border, a trade border between the United Kingdom and the European Union and therefore a border between Ireland and Britain and a border across this island”).

“I believe the onus should be on them to come up with proposals for such a border and to convince us and convince you; citizens, students, academics, farmers, business people that it’s in your interest to have these new barriers to commerce and trade.

“They’ve already had fourteen months to do so. If they cannot, and I believe they cannot, we can then talk meaningfully about solutions that might work for all of us.”

He threw into the air the idea that since there is already an EU-Turkey customs union, “perhaps there can be an EU-UK customs union”.

“If the UK does not want to stay in the Single Market, perhaps it could enter into a deep Free Trade Agreement with the EU and rejoin EFTA of which it was a member prior to accession.

“And if this cannot be agreed now, then perhaps we can have a transition period during which the UK stays in the single market and customs union while these things are worked out. This is the space in which agreements are made.”

While “these are the practical solutions I am proposing” he added that “these solutions will not be offered, they will have to be asked for” after sufficient progress is made on an “agreement on the financial settlement, protecting citizens’ rights and key issues relating to Ireland such as the Common Travel Area”.

As well as north-south cooperation over health provision, Varadkar mentioned the Rugby World Cup bid for 2023. He would prefer not to travel alone to the bid meeting in London in September.

“I would like the First Minister and the deputy First Minister to be there with me.”

The penultimate section of his speech outlined some of the projects that are likely to be in “our ambitious multi-annual 10-year capital plan to be finalised by the end of 2017”.

“We remain committed to contributing £75 million to the construction of the A5.”

He listed for “consideration” some political carrots.

  • the Ulster Canal
  • the concept of the Narrow Water Bridge
  • improving line speeds on the Dublin to Belfast rail line

But time was of the essence.

“The House of Commons, whose approval will be needed for any new deal, is due to rise for the party conference season in just over 6 weeks time. That crucial European Council meeting will take place just 10 weeks from now. We need to hear the voice of those elected representatives here in the North.

“We need the Executive, the Assembly, the North South Ministerial Council and the British Irish Council up and running and acting in the interests of our peoples. We need that more than ever, and we need it now.”

He finished by referencing the DUP MP for Lagan Valley who has been much sought after in the media this week for comment on Leo Varadkar and Simon Coveney’s comments about the border.

“In July Sir Jeffrey Donaldson joined with the Irish embassy in Britain to pay tribute to Willie Redmond MP, who was killed fighting at Messines. Over the years he has liked to quote a line from one of Willie’s letters and it is one that has really resonated with me. It was in a letter to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes.

“Written shortly before he died, Willie Redmond said that: ‘It would be a fine memorial to the men who have died if we could over their graves build up a bridge between the north and south.’

“I believe we should all honour his words today. At a time when Brexit threatens to drive a wedge between north and south we need to build more bridges and fewer borders. I promise I will play my part in helping to do exactly that.”

Video adapted from original QUB Facebook stream.

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  • ted hagan

    Northern Ireland is part of Ireland. It may have remained attached to the UK after independence but it will always be part of Ireland. You can’t magic that away no matter how much you delude yourself.

  • Damien Mullan

    Partition left matters unresolved. How to make compatible differing and incompatible aspirations. That was the beauty of the Good Friday Agreement, the mechanism of self-determination.

    Now I don’t consider the GFA as a sacred document or settlement. If Unionists want to unilaterally move to nullify it then so be it. After all, Irish Independence was not ratified by a referendum, rather the Treaty was endorsed by the Second Dáil in January of 1922, then a new election for the Third Dáil was called in June of 1922, for the people to voice their sentiment by the proportions of pro and anti Treaty Deputies elected. The people elected a pro-treaty majority and so the Irish Free State began it’s early genesis.

    Self-determination is the penultimate and central feature of the GFA, but if it was not there, then we would have to devise other means to give effect to the logical conclusion of peoples aspiration, and any change in that sentiment. If a referendum is no longer the mechanism, then we would have to ascribe it by the only other democratic means, like with the Third Dáil, it would have to be ascertained from the political representation elected to Stormont. A majority vote in Stormont would therefore secure reunification.

    Which would unionists prefer? A referendum in which we are constantly told by unionists, ‘vast’ numbers of Catholics and ‘Nationalists’ voters would vote against a United Ireland. Or, would they prefer to leave it in the decades ahead to the changing face of representation at Stormont.

  • Damien Mullan

    Indeed Ted, ‘Ireland’ is the operative word.

  • Deplorable Ulsterman

    Only someone as naive as your pal Ghobsmacht would fall for that one!

  • Sean Danaher

    my ancestors were almost to a person from the Co Limerick region and fighting with Sarsfield at the siege of Limerick is a matter of family pride as indeed Aughrim’s great disaster. To us the battle of the Boyne was a minor skirmish and we can’t understand the fuss,

  • ted hagan

    You’re part of it, like it or not.

  • lizmcneill

    What would happen if everyone did that? Import all our food and let the countryside rot?

  • Timothyhound

    The problem is that 30% of the Norths liquid milk is processed in the Republic. Brexit adds deep rIsk and complexity to this basic trade. These are the real issues that so far the DUP are ducking.

  • james

    I don’t live in Ireland, Ted.

    I never have and nor do I have any intention of doing so. I’m happy in the UK – as most people in NI are.

    Why is that hard to understand?

  • Roger

    The Ireland Act 1949 of the United Kingdom had ‘self-determination’ at its core too. Cession of Northern Ireland to Ireland required 27/52 votes in the House of Commons of Northern Ireland and 14/26 votes in the Senate of Northern Ireland. Cession of Northern Ireland to Ireland today requires legislation to be passed in the United Kingdom and in Ireland providing for the holding of referendums; with the two states required to co-ordinate closely around the holding of the votes. Thereafter it requires the winning of referendums held in the Northern Ireland region and Ireland. That’s a good result? Unionists must laugh.

  • james

    “To us the battle of the Boyne was a minor skirmish and we can’t understand the fuss,”

    I do hope you weren’t wounded.

  • William Kinmont

    the land would still be there , farming will become much more extensive esp beef and sheep . it will not disappear.
    Look at all the government statements money for rural support and maintaing environment Not for agri production. GB already is massive net importer of food walk round a supermarket the public have no concern if their food is imported much of it is. If europe continues to spend billions supporting production we will have a massive cheap supplier on our doorstep. Smaller family farms with low debt will survive easily as long as they can diversify or find work off farm.
    The big issue for NI is in the number of jobs in DAERA andprocessing relative to size of our economy. A considerable percentage are european workers .

  • William Kinmont

    smugglers tunnels seems a bit Enid Blighton. Five go to Aughnacloy

  • Nevin

    “This was not a speech that intended to be divisive. It offered a partial policy framework, but very little in the way of absolute red lines or dogmatic solutions. However, they were definitely not the words of a political pushover.”

    Yet there was absolutely no criticism of the EU team in terms of its ‘robust’ treatment of Ireland in the past and the UK currently. Also the failure of the British-Irish Council to promote EU reform and to ‘advise’ David Cameron didn’t get a mention.

    Nigel Dodds will probably still describe the new Fine Gael team approach as divisive and disruptive as well as incoherent:

    “Just what is going on in Dublin?

    Since Enda Kenny and Charlie Flanagan departed the scene confusion seems to be the order of the day. The intemperate outburst by Leo Varadkar at a press briefing expressing anger at the UK’s decision to leave the EU is just the latest in a series of inconsistent and incoherent statements. Statements are made and then reversed sending mixed messages.

    First, we had Simon Coveney talking about special status for Northern Ireland seeming to adopt the language of Sinn Fein. Then he was forced into an embarrassing “clarification” that in fact he didn’t mean support for the type of unattainable demand that Sinn Fein want. Indeed even the European Parliament has since voted down that particular hare brained idea.

    Then we had the demand for the Irish Sea to become the border after Brexit. Coveney denied this was the intention only for his boss to let loose and confirm the opposite. Never mind that Varadkar’s position is total nonsense. There already is an economic border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic.

    There was also no mention by Leo of the secretive but partisan Irish government team in the BIIC Joint Secretariat. The JS appears to be somewhat less ‘joint’ than it was nearly twenty years ago. Back in the late 90s, after the move from Maryfield to Bedford Street, where there were 14 offices, the new premises in Linenhall Street has just got 7 offices ie accommodation for the Irish team only.

  • Croiteir
  • Stephen Kelly

    I only the forum yesterday after reading it for years and finding it very in formative i didnt expect really ever post when i read comments by people like ted hagen, Sean Danagher and Damien Mullen put what i think so muc better than i can. I am about make a post and if it breaks your rules Mick take it strait down but please allow me to still access your blog to read I am sixty seven and was an engineer with shell for many years and went many countries and saw much poverty i trawl Google news everyday and look at the countries i have beern to and whats happening as i don,t get out much as i have severe arthritis.that is why i felt i must post this. I read about two men this morning one on this blog and one in the newspaper and i was uplifted by one and let down by the other these are just my feelings. Sorry for being so long winded.Leo Varadkar is a very articulate and fair minded man and i feel someone who i could give my vote to.because i am now a lapsed voter again and will have to bring bad news to the group of nineteen crocs lol who came of the benches to vote again and we agreed to give it to sinn feinn but after the disgraceful actions of Mickey Brady, the MP for Newry and Armagh, and his disguting support for Maduro and his dictatorial regime in Venezuea no way can i vote for sinn feinn if thats the type of person they put forward for election and Maduro is the type of person they can give any inkling of support to. Go to Venezuelan news and look up the news on the Narco state Venezuela look up the babies the children and men and women dying for the most basic medicines. Countries want to donate free medicine and he blocks it newspapers are nearly all shut down. Hundreds of young protesters slaughtered in the streets and the opposition imprisoned and Mickey Brady took their shilling to go and oversee an election that should never have taken place. Mickey Brady slept well ate well while the whole population is starving children in their thousands are suffering from malnutrition but Mickey Brady ate well election all ok then. Even the pope has asked this monster Maduro to please allow free elections and listen to the voice of the people just like Sinn Feinn want us to do. What the armed wing fought for REMEMBER Mickey. I will now show this to my children and their husbands and tell them at least their is the green party lol but no more two faced sinn feinn. those poor people how could sinn feinn allow this travesty. 40 countries protest and do not recognize Venezuela’s new assembly amid fraud accusations. But good old mickie brady mp and sinn feinn do. Enough said as they, say i will now carry forward to people i know sinn feinns new policy on starving and dying children and non democracy. Google is your friend look up Venezuela i am so angry with myself to have been suckered into voting for them. My children actually voted for him i think they will be sickened when i show them the dying babies of Venezuela or i didn’t raise them with a sense of right and wrong. Up the revolution Mickey Brady, MP for Newry and Armagh,.

  • Stephen Kelly

    I am sorry i should have read over that post to correct the grammer and spelling and missing words.

  • Nevin

    “After name-checking … Game of Thrones … We need to be able to imagine the impossible, and then try to make it a reality.”

    Ongoing damage to The Dark Hedges [ GoT set] is the reality – and getting a measure of protection is apparently nigh impossible. Fine words from politicians and bureaucrats are of no value unless matched by appropriate deeds.

  • sparrow

    In which case you – and political unionism – have nothing to fear from such a referendum. And yet you won’t even allow a border poll within your own gerrymandered statelet. Odd that.

  • james

    Not really odd, since:

    a. The pre-conditions haven’t been met for a referendum

    and mainly, because

    b. It is very, very obvious that a referendum would not be the final word on it. The Republicans would clearly lose – but would then plunge us into a never-ending cycle of referendums until they finally won one. Perhaps by about 2050. Who the hell wants another 40 years of instability?

    We don’t need it.

  • Nevin

    “4. Maintaining the economic and social benefits of co-operation.”

    ‘The Gathering’ was a fine example of non- cooperation – and Ireland’s tourism minister at the time: er, Leo Varadkar.

    “The vast majority of people on both parts of the island voted for a new future based on power sharing, equality, mutual respect and co-operation North/South and East/West.”

    This may well be so but I suppose we can always rely on politicians to opt for à la carte!

  • sparrow

    British government / unionist pre conditions, you mean. And left to these two groups, pre conditions will never be met. Leaving that aside, you’re obviously talking in the context of a 6 county poll when you state that republicans would clearly lose. Firstly, you’ve no evidence for that. (Neither do the main unionist parties, otherwise we’d have had a poll in record speed). Secondly, I’m talking about an all island referendum. Partition affects everyone on this island, politically, economically, socially and culturally. Why therefore should the future of the island be determined only by one small section of its people?

  • I have read and reread his two books: Another Part of the Wood and The Other Half several times.

  • T.E.Lawrence


  • lizmcneill


  • lizmcneill

    So we’ll be even more of a service economy that brings in food from far off with a waste of fuel even though we can produce it ourselves?
    Tractors on the road, really?

  • William Kinmont

    i am a farmer i drive a tractor on the road i am not advocating these changes i am trying to express a warning.
    Fuel and imports and environment case specific.

  • Croiteir

    It was reporting Phillip Hammond, who has just been in Argentina, talking about cheap food due to imports, his attitude to British agriculture and the necessity not to let an industry so small in UK terms dictate food policy. Basically saying we will import cheap food.

  • Zeno

    To be fair Homer Simpson can do that with a lot of them.

  • lizmcneill

    I wonder if he’ll be eating it. You get what you pay for.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    well said – it is bonkers

  • MainlandUlsterman

    And it’s part of the UK too, by the choice of its people. Who’s deluded here?

  • MainlandUlsterman

    we do

  • MainlandUlsterman

    by that logic the Rep of Ireland would have to rejoin the UK if the rest of the British Isles voted for it.

    NI has something called SELF-determination. I sense you don’t like that …

  • MainlandUlsterman

    what you describe is a Republican dissident, not even a SF, position on NI. SF massively recognises the legitimacy of N Ireland, we have it in writing.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    but we ALL agreed the legitimacy of the current borders – indeed nationalists voted for the GFA by a bigger margin than unionists did. “Gerrymandered statelet”?! Gerrymandered by whom, Martin McGuinness? John Hume?

  • MainlandUlsterman

    I am loving your clock-watching. You know it makes time pass more slowly?

  • ted hagan

    Yes, in a gerrymandered way of thinking.

  • sparrow

    Self determination? What nonsense! NI could not exist, certainly not in its 6 county form, if it wasn’t propped up by the twin pillars of the British treasury and the British military. That’s not self determination. That’s good old fashioned colonialism.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    But we all recognise it has the right as a region to decide its own future. That is self-determination.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    gerrymandered by whom? We all signed up to it.

  • sparrow

    I wouldn’t sit down and play poker if I knew for certain that people at the table had stacked the deck in their favour. For the same reason, I wouldn’t acknowledge the right to ‘self determination’ of a region designed specifically and solely for the purpose of giving one group of people living within its borders a perpetual majority.

  • ted hagan

    At the point of a gun.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    that describes every country in the world.

    really you need to go away and have a think about this.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Sorry but what gun was pointed at Adams, Hume and Aherne when they signed up to the GFA? You’re seriously trying to get nationalism out of it now on the basis of some claim of coercion? I think you need to explain.

  • sparrow

    Yeah? So which group of people living within the borders of the UK enjoys a perpetual majority? Which groups in Germany, Italy or France enjoy a perpetual majority at the ballot box? Do tell. NI was born as a one party state, with unionists as the favoured party. This arrangement came about not through ‘self determination’, as unionists on their own were neither numerically strong enough nor geographically dispersed enough to create and hold the six counties of the north. They needed the backing and support of the British government in order to set up and maintain their statelet. That’s how colonialism works.

  • ted hagan

    I was referring to the violence that was threatened by the UVF, ie the use of arms, if home rule was granted to Ireland.
    Their ‘victory’ and the subsequent treaty therefore legitimised violence there after. The idea that loyalism and unionism is somehow innocent of terrorism and the worst extremes of violence is farcical. The current documentaries aired on the BBC on the partition of India highlights the mess and slaughter left behind by British colonial rule.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    The British, the Germans, the Italians and the French.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    There was a threat of violence whatever way things went in 1921, unionists were hardly the sole purveyors of such threats. The Treaty was arrived at after a period of largely nationalist violence after all.

    The point was, you said NI was only in the UK through gerrymandering. Yet the Free State and then the Republic have recognised the legitimacy of the border many times over; and in 1998 the SDLP and SF also agreed it was there legitimately and it would be wrong to change it without the people of NI’s consent. The wording couldn’t have been clearer. It leaves no room for comments like yours.

  • sparrow

    So you’re saying that Ulster unionism is a nationality now? How many people here, when asked their nationality in the 2011 census, wrote ‘unionism’? I don’t need a precise number, a ballpark figure will do.

  • ted hagan

    The state was gerrymandered. Full stop. The border was drawn along gerrymandered lines to ensure a Protestant majority because of the threat of a pogrom if the Protestants didn’t get their way. Don’t kid yourself.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Where do you draw an international border? In a place where you minimise minorities on either side, surely? The main criticism you can level at our border is that there were too many nationalists left on the wrong side of it, not too few. A better border would have had a bigger unionist majority, logically.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    No. The nationality of Ulster unionists is British; being Northern Irish or ‘Ulster’ is a regional identity not a national identity.

    Those in NI who choose ‘British’ as their primary descriptor are only part of the bigger group of people who are pro-Union in NI, don’t forget; and many Irish people in NI also favour the Union.

    I’m saying there should be a pro-UK majority in every region within the UK’s borders (and in NI there is a comfortable one). Likewise in any border region in any country anywhere – it’s universal because logic dictates it. If a region doesn’t want to be in the country it’s in, it should be able to vote to change hands. NI happily has that right enshrined in treaty and domestic law.

  • sparrow

    ‘Likewise in any border region in any country anywhere – it’s universal because logic dictates it. If a region doesn’t want to be in the country it’s in, it should be able to vote to change hands. ‘
    Therein lies my problem, because that’s exactly what took place in Ireland in the early years of the 20th century. Ireland wanted home rule, then independence, and voted in favour of both. Unionists, with a majority in only 4 of the 32 counties of Ireland, rejected democracy and took up the gun instead.
    Another thing: you, along with many other unionists and assorted British politicians, keep saying that there is a ‘comfortable’ majority in favour of the union here. You don’t know that. There hasn’t been a border poll here since the 1970s. Opinion polls don’t count. Opinion polls said that Brexit would be rejected, that Hillary Clinton would be President, that Mrs May would win by a landslide because Corbynn was unelectable. They mean nothing, and deep down unionists know that. That’s why they’re running scared of a border poll.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Unionists are rightly wise to the wider dynamic set in train by any border poll. We’ve seen from Scotland (and the Brexit issue would surely have been the same had the Leavers lost) that referenda do not settle an issue if the losing side doesn’t want it to. We think we’d win but we also think the result would not be respected by SF.

  • sparrow

    Your post sums up much better than I could the relationship between unionism and democracy i.e there isn’t one. ‘We think we’d win but we also think the result would not be respected by…’ therefore we’re not going to let people express their wishes through the ballot box. Brilliant. And I notice you didn’t address my comments about unionism ignoring previous democratic decisions in Ireland and choosing to take up the gun instead.

  • The Irishman

    Well said sparrow.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    what democratic decision? The 1918 Westminster election was not an all-Ireland winner-takes-all referendum. What makes you think it was? The results, if you look at the electoral map, showed exactly why N Ireland was inevitable. As for taking up the gun, the Easter Rising and the “War of Independence” were Republican endeavours, were they not? I’m not excusing the whole unionist sabre-rattling thing, but nationalists in the 1910s committed way more political violence than unionists did.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    also, unionists are not against a referendum per se, just one outside the terms we all agreed in the GFA. It’s in Republican interests to keep having as many votes as possible as they don’t care about making N Ireland work; unionists do care so have to be more responsible. Making the place into Referendumland for eternity does not fill anyone with joy other than a modest minority of Republican political nerds and True Believers. We are supposed to be trying to make the GFA institutions work; SF has unilaterally decided to renege on this now while pretending it’s still on board so it doesn’t look bad. Sorry, transparent stuff, cynical and shows SF’s true colours – they just don’t care about the welfare of the people or the building a shared N Ireland. They are frauds.

  • sparrow

    I think we’re talking more than just sabre rattling. Some 25,000 rifles were brought in through Larne in 1914 for the UVF, two years before the Easter Rising. Loyalist Ulster was arming itself for war. The 1918 Westminster election in Ireland was fought by Sinn Fein on the issue of Irish independence and they received a huge mandate from the people. Unionists in the north east of the island had a different view, obviously, but why do you say that this fact made N.Ireland inevitable? Why should the views of 20% of any given electorate prevail over the rest?

  • sparrow

    The secretary of state can call a border poll anytime he or she wishes. This was discussed not so long ago on this site:

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Yes there was a quasi-legal discussion over the meaning of the GFA’s provisions on that. Two ways of reading it but I’d expect a court to say the section setting out the circumstances in which his power is to be exercised qualifies the power (otherwise it’s hard to explain why it’s there).

  • MainlandUlsterman

    They could argue they won a mandate for independence in seats in which they were elected; but it’s pretty hard to argue they won a mandate for independence in seats they lost.

    N. Ireland, or some form of partition, became inevitable as soon as nationalist-majority regions fixed upon secession from the UK. There was no prospect of the island coming together on the issue, so nationalism had a choice – push secession or push for unity. It couldn’t have both and that remains the case.

  • sparrow

    ‘They could argue they won a mandate for independence in seats in which they were elected; but it’s pretty hard to argue they won a mandate for independence in seats they lost.’
    That’s how democracy works. Using your logic, any constituency that voted in a nationalist / republican candidate at the last Westminster election should be entitled to secede from the 6 county state. How would you feel about that?

  • MainlandUlsterman

    What do you mean when you say, “That’s how democracy works”? I don’t follow.

    The 1918 election was a UK, Westminster, general election. It was not a referendum on anything. The fact that SF won a lot of seats in the South that time did not somehow bind the whole island. No other party agreed to that – those are unenforceable, invalid assertions, not legal obligations. Ireland was clearly deeply divided along ethnic lines on where allegiances lay. Trying to manage such an issue by clumsy majority domination rather than consociationalism was a mistake both nationalists and then unionists made in that era. We are wiser now.

  • sparrow

    I mean that all polls / elections / are decided on the basis of which party wins most seats. Not every constituency returns a member of the winning party, but those constituencies are nevertheless expected to accept the result.
    In the 1918 election, Sinn Fein won seats throughout Ireland, north and south:
    You say that clumsy majority domination would have been a mistake. So how much more of a mistake was what actually ensued which was, in effect, clumsy minority domination. The wishes of a minority of the people on the island were elevated above those of the majority and enforced at the point of a gun.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Again, you pretend Ireland is set in stone as an indivisible political unit. Why? You would have ended up with a bigger number of people in the country they didn’t want if you had done secession that way. As it was, the unionist population in what is now Northern Ireland did not impose its view on the whole island as you suggest. Majority nationalist parts of the island seceded. The border could have been better, a la 1925, but broadly the area that stayed in the UK was one where that reflected the wishes of the people living there. Nor did unionists use guns any more than nationalists did. Both sides carried an implicit threat of violence and nationalists actually carried out more violence pre-partition. So your analysis needs another look I think.

  • sparrow

    ‘You pretend Ireland is set in stone as an indivisible political unit. Why?’
    The correct question is ‘why not?’. It’s an island with its own natural borders which was always viewed as a separate unit. The Act of Union of 1800 was between Great Britain and Ireland, so even the British regarded it as a single, separate political unit. Unionists changed this against the wishes of the majority on the island, but as I’ve said on the other thread, where does that salami slicing of a territory stop? You quoted me examples of small disputed areas which had been granted plebiscites. Using the same logic, therefore, why shouldn’t Fermanagh been granted a vote on whether it wants to be part of NI or the republic? What about Tyrone? South Armagh? The city of Derry and surrounding area? What about west Belfast, which has a bigger population than some of the examples you cited?

  • MainlandUlsterman

    As I thought I had explained, I don’t regard our current borders as sacrosanct and I’m all for transfers of territory to minimise the numbers feeling they live on the wrong side.

    Why is the island not a single country? Because it has two national groups in it, who want to be part of different countries.