Moving past 50 plus 1 & a potential path forward

Sinn Fein MEP, Matt Carthy was speaking at the D’arcy Magee Summer School in Carlingford, Co. Louth last night;

“The attempted imposition of Brexit on the North against the wishes of the majority living there who voted to remain within the EU, highlighted the undemocratic nature of Partition.

“After decades of lecturing republicans about ‘the principle of consent’ the refusal of the British Government to respect the expressed will of a majority of voters in the Six Counties should not be lost on anybody.

“Brexit has swept away many previous assumptions about the constitutional, political and economic status quo in Ireland. All of us now have an obligation to examine new constitutional, political and economic arrangements that better suit Ireland’s needs in 2017.

“The challenge of Brexit, puts an onus on all political parties North and South as well as the media to create space for a real debate on the prospects of a united Ireland in the future.

“As Britain jettisoned its previous relationship with Europe and became increasingly insular and isolated, the appeal of being part of a new and outward-looking Ireland would prove ever more attractive to young people from a unionist background.

“Some commentators and politicians had recently sought to cast doubt on whether a 50% plus-one vote would be sufficient to secure a United Ireland.

“This is both mischievous and dangerous. The Good Friday Agreement is specific and unambiguous on this point.

“I believe that all those in favour of Irish unity should work together with the common objective of convincing the greatest possible number of people across Ireland that Unity is in their best interest.
“There is now an urgent need for a constructive, inclusive debate on our future. This must include constitutional options and what a United Ireland might look like.

“Unionist representatives also need to be involved in that debate. They need to influence it. They cannot remain aloof from this discussion. Attempting to do so amounts merely to head-in-the-sand politics and does nothing to serve the interests of the people unionist parties claim to represent.

“The British identity of many people in the North can and must be accommodated in an agreed, united Ireland.

“This may involve constitutional and political safeguards including protections for the British cultural identity of a significant number of people in the North.

“Economy and society across the island of Ireland are intertwined. The prospect of Brexit has merely served to highlight that reality. It is time to come together to design a pathway to a new, agreed and inclusive Ireland.

“All our people, from all backgrounds and traditions, Orange and Green must be involved in that.

I have bolded some of the bits in Carthy’s remarks that I would like to unpack as a potential way forward for republicans on the United Ireland file.

First, the 50 plus 1 issue. I have listened to commentators such as Fintan O’Toole articulate their view that such a result would not be desirable in a political context. What I read into O’Toole’s remarks was not something about the legality of such a result, on this there is no question about what the threshold for a victory is. However, much like the inevitability logic, what needs to be guarded against is viewing 50.1% as the simple end goal.

In many ways, a vote for a United Ireland is a much about those who will vote against it as those who support it. For those who oppose it, we have a duty to ensure that we are ready the day after a vote in favour with proposals/concrete actions that can be taken to reassure them that their voices will be heard and that they still have a place in our community. Republicans will deliver on a United Ireland, but taking on this task with all the ideas and commonsense we can muster. If we pursue a Brexiter type strategy where we get a win and then are caught with our pants down in the months that follow, then we will have rubbished any progress that will have been made during a campaign.

So, when we talk about not seeking 50 plus 1, I am not talking about simply percentages, I am talking about a mindset and an approach. An approach that doesn’t view things in sectional ways or puts groups apart. This is the way in which we actually deliver a United Ireland.

Then, we have another part of a strategy which is seeking Unionist engagement for a “new Ireland.” On the face of it, it’s a welcome thing to see people seeking dialogue with Unionism, however as an actual strategy it is flawed. It is unlikely that Unionism will do any real engagement in this debate before a vote is held. Think about it for a moment, would the Remain campaign have engaged with Vote Leave on how the UK should exit the EU before June 23rd? Indeed, would Sinn Fein engage in a debate about strengthening the United Kingdom? Unionism will be mustering their strength to argue for the status quo and why a United Ireland is a bad idea. Seeking this substantive engagement before a vote is putting the kart before the horse.

But how then do Republicans seek to assuage Unionist concerns without substantive engagement?

  1. Prepare for a referendum like you have already won it. Have a serious of principles that a United Ireland can be based on (a covenant for want of a better term) which is signed up to by the leaders of the main parties but most importantly the Taoiseach.
  2. A list of draft proposals for continued association with the UK. This will be difficult for some on the Yes side to agree too, but it’s too important for community cohesion to ignore. Issues around this is something akin to the Nordic Council/Link into the Commonwealth for N.Ireland/Maintenance of Stormont in a (this is important) federal Ireland with a power sharing administration in Belfast.
  3. A recognition that this process will not be decided by Sinn Fein/SDLP alone, the main talks will be between the British and Irish governments with the relevant parties consulted as to how this process will be completed with transition periods and new arrangements to be decided in these talks. I have lost count of how many Unionists I have spoken to, who genuinely think it will be Gerry Adams they will have to negotiate with. Parties like Sinn Fein, are only one piece of this jigsaw and it will be the Irish government that the formal talks happen with.
  4. A statement that the equality provisions outlined in the Good Friday Agreement and the relevant legislation protecting sections of the community will continue in a United Ireland.

In essence, our mission statement for this will work has already been outlined by Edward Carson who when speaking about the new state he envisioned said;

They must forget faction and section …… If Ulster does what I ask her to do, and what I hope and believe she will do, in setting up an example and a precedent of good government, fair government, honest government, and a government not for sections or factions, but for all.

This was everything that the eventual Unionist government went on to not do in their reign.

These are just some ideas I have on this issue and others will no doubt have their own proposals. Hopefully, we can now get a move on with some new ideas on the table.


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  • siouxchief

    Good article. Amazes me that a United Ireland is talked about so freely nowadays. I can’t decide if it is just increased chatter due to Brexit which will fade over time especially after Brexit actually happens. Or is this thing likely to happen in the next 20 years which would have seemed unbelievable not too long ago….

  • John

    All this United Ireland talk is getting rather boring and repetitive on here.

  • WindowLean

    Strange unintended consequence of Brexit that there’s been more talk about a UI in the last year than in the previous 95 years combined!

  • The worm!

    The irony of the shinners crying about a lack of democracy in the North.

    While only signing up to participate in an assembly (although that seems increasingly beyond them!) on the terms that it would be undemocratic.

    You actually couldn’t make it up.

  • runnymede

    What a fantasy this is. Republicans are nowhere near getting even 50+1, let alone going beyond that.

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    The OP outlines some of the challenges but not all. There is another which lies south of the border. A campaign of persuasion will be needed there too. Once the reality of adding 1.8 million people whose character and personality is quite different to those they are joining becomes a potential consideration, the realisation that not only the political landscape but also the character of the nation will change substantially. There is of course the other big unanswered question that in the short term at least spending on us will have to be maintained at something close to our present levels.
    It is not unimaginable that in some future, Northern Ireland vote in favour of a UI (more decisively than 50%+1) and Ireland vote equally decisively to reject taking us on.
    In short there’s no all Ireland consensus on this issue as yet.

  • Mike the First

    So let me see if I’ve got this right.

    Republicans want constitutional change – what is now NI leaving the UK and instead being part of a united Ireland state.

    Unionists want the constitutional postition to remain the same. NI remaining part of the UK.

    So according to republicans, unionists apparently have some sort of imperative to get involved in a debate on “constitutional options” and “what a united Ireland might look like”. And, again according to republicans, unionists not doing so “merely amounts to head in the sand politics”.


    Well, Matt, there’s definitely someone with their head in the sand here…hope you brought a snorkel or something…

  • A Bit Left and a Bit Lost

    A lot of sense in the above though I don’t agree with Point 1; ‘Prepare for a referendum like you have already won it’. This seems like a very steamroller approach. The 50+1 seems to be the trendy new name for the demographics argument. Even with the Brexit catalyst we still need a better offering to those who do not currently believe in a UI.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    the former, judging by the polls

  • MainlandUlsterman

    I love how these guys talk about referendum victory as if it’s remotely on the cards. It’s so not on the cards it’s very unlikely there’ll even be any need for a referendum, let alone the united Ireland lot winning it.

  • Karl
  • Blamigo

    In the event of a United Ireland, the south will have to get use to a lot more sectarian debates within it’s everyday politics and airwaves. Will the State Broadcaster’s Angelus be the first victim of this new, utopian Ireland for all.

  • Conchúr

    Why would it? The Anglican Archbishop of Dublin spoke in favour of it a few years ago when RTE mooted removing it.

  • Tochais Siorai

    It’ll be gone long before then.

  • Oriel27

    As a result of Brexit, i thought a referendum on a United Ireland was clearly a given. Surely the DUP cant still carry on dictating to the nationalist majority?
    Yes it boils down to headcount at the end of the day, ‘headcount’ its a dirty word, but thats exactly how the North was formed.
    Unionists brought sectarianism into existences.

    I bet the DUP wish the brexit vote never have happened.

    But its all good, united economies on this island will benefit everyone. We have seen evidence of that within the last 20 years, much more improvements need to be made.

  • Ruairi Murphy

    There has not been a single poll conducted that has dealt with the question in a fair and unbiased way. A poll with a genuine interest in determining the possibility of a vote for re-unification could uncover some very interesting results, should we ever get such a poll.

    At the moment we’re stuck with headline grabbing Belfast Telegraph polls based on binary positions setup to in favour of the status quo.

  • The Gunslinger

    While I agree that 50%+1 would be a legal basis for unification it wouldn’t be a stable basis for a state, especially one that would have a deeply divided society.

    I take issue over Carthy’s claim about partition being “undemocratic,” the 1921 NI Parliament election showed that there was a 2:1 majority in NI against being part of an Irish State. The Anglo Irish Treaty gave provision for the NIP to opt out of the Free State, this was ratified by the Second Dail and Craig subsequently invoked it, so while partition wasn’t many people’s favourite option it was done in accordance with international law.

    If a Border Poll gives a narrow margin in favour of unification then I believe there’s a real chance that a secession movement could take hold among Unionists in the year’s following. Alex Kane has raised this scenario in some of his writings and I haven’t seen anyone come up with a convincing answer to that question. So unification could potentially be followed by a second partition with places like N Antrim and N Down seeking to leave.

    The only way to avoid this is to heed John Hume’s view about uniting people not land, and this is something which SF in its current form is totally unsuited to achieving. I know many Unionists whose main objection to a UI is the thought of Gerry Adams’ grinning face the morning after the result is announced. Indeed at one of SF’s unity conferences Kevin Meagher stated that the issue needs to be “de-Shinnerised!”

    However there’s no real sign of an upswell of interest in RoI for unity, indeed it’s something that Fintan O’Toole was saying in that column and which Jason O’Mahoney has written about in Twitter, “What’s in it for the South?” As it stands they’d be taking on an economic wasteland with the potential for continuing sectarian strife and the possibility that the poison in NI politics could infect the RoI. SF has always taken it as a given that the South’s support for reunification is assured, but what if NI votes Yes but RoI says No? What psychological impact would that have on Republicanism?

    Also, suppose by the time a Border Poll happens NI still doesn’t have equal marriage, could some Conservative Catholics vote no so as to prevent it? Conversely if the 8th Amendent is still in effect might some Southern Liberals baulk at the idea of the DUP holding the balance of power in the Dail and preventing its repeal? I really think that a Border Poll would create a lot of Electoral dynamics that people haven’t properly grasped yet

  • Hugh Davison

    Actually, in the main, apart from a little kulcheral wierdness here and there, they’re not all that different

  • Stephen Kelly

    Get used to saying oh the irony it seems to be a popular phrase on here oh the irony lol. Its like this worm, bottom line work with Sinn Feinn in harmony for both communities are have direct rule forever. Direct rule, do you care worm the only people who will suffer will be my family your family all the ordinary people of the northeast. The free state is doing ok and will do better. No EU your like me and sixty odd million others including Theresa May we don’t know yet and when we do know the terms, we wont know for a few years what the result is. Personally i think its going to be a great big f up but i’m 68 nearly so it doesn’t matter to me and i worked hard and so my children are and will be seen kind of all right but they are part of the lucky few.

  • Stephen Kelly

    I agree there is not going to be one. I am a nationalist and i am pleased for the people of the south that its to late to inflict a million unionists on them with all their baggage.

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    Hmmm not so sure. I don’t see any evidence of Calvinism across the border. They don’t wear a defensive mask of suspicion either.

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    Have a few free Ps on the board of RTE and problem’s solved.

  • Trasna

    Jesus Christ, you northerners don’t half flatter yourselves. How would Norries change the character of Ireland? The Ireland that I see today is more Irish than the Ireland of my childhood, even allowing for the mass immigration. Irish culture thrives in areas where 30 years ago was non existant.

    IMHO, there’s a ten year time spam for unification. After that, forget it.

  • Trasna

    Or just maybe, sectarianism will be buried forever?

  • 05OCT68

    Bit of a broad statement saying 1.8 million have a different character and personality to our Southern brothers & sisters. I see no difference, especially among us border dwellers.

  • Reader

    Oriel27: Surely the DUP cant still carry on dictating to the nationalist majority?
    What nationalist majority?
    And, given mandatory power sharing, the DUP is not in a position to dictate anything. Even obstructing change is becoming difficult for them.

  • Hugh Davison

    Superficiality will rule, and eventually win. The true benefits may take a generation, but they will be worth it.

  • The worm!

    Twenty odd years ago I voted for the Good Friday agreement, despite some serious misgivings, so that Northern Ireland could be governed by politicians elected by the people of Northern Ireland, whoever they may be.

    So save your ranting about direct rule for someone who actually says it’s their preferred way of running the country.

    It certainly isn’t mine, and I’ve no idea why you assumed that it was.

  • 1729torus

    Talk too effusively about the British Royal Family and you have a good chance of seeing Calvinism.

  • Roger

    More talk about it…and even less prospect of it happening.

  • Roger

    Is it not a binary choice: Stay in UK or join Ireland?

  • Roger

    I think sectarianism would drop off….there wouldn’t be as much to fight about. Religion is on the wane too. Or has it been pretty much extinguished….well maybe not quite.

  • Old Mortality

    ‘the expressed will of a majority of voters…’?
    A landslide majority of 55.8% on a turnout of 62.7% (West Belfast 48.9%, Foyle 57.4%). Barely a third of the electorate expressed a positive wish to remain in the EU.
    Of course, albeit to a lesser degree, a similar qualification attaches to the national result.

  • WindowLean

    You might be right MU but I remember way back at the start of IndyRef being told that the Yes vote wouldn’t break 20%, also Leave was a busted flush, Remain had it (N Farage) and Trump was an idiot with too much money (actually the latter might be true!). The main issue as I see it as a nationalist with at least an emotional and aspirational attachment to a UI, is that no one has yet answered all those difficult questions about how a UI would operate. In that situation it’s very difficult for people to vote “yes”.

  • NotNowJohnny

    How did you come to the conclusion that a referendum on a UI was clearly a given?

  • NotNowJohnny

    You are spot on. As one who is soft pro union but who could be persuaded to vote for a UI in a referendum, I see the main impediment to a UI as being the inability of those calling loudest for a referendum to develop a vision for a UI that would appeal to a majority of voters. It’s a catch 22. Those who desire a UI are unable to deliver it. Those who would be able to develop a vision that might appeal to a majority have no desire to pursue a UI. And of course if BREXIT had taught us anything it is that without a detailed plan which answers the difficult questions, a vote for constitutional change is a vote for chaos.

  • Oriel27

    Well if this brexit results in border checks on every road again is it not just obvious to allow a border referendum and let the people have a say ? Surely the British don’t expect no reaction of any kind of they impose check points on my road again ? I would certainly support mass protests if that was the case.

  • Oriel27

    I totally agree with what you say, there has never been a sound inclusive case for everyone of the benefits of UI and how it would proceed. Exactly the same situation as the brexit people who yet have to put forward the benefits of brexit for the north. My point is put back border checkpoints, crater roads, impose id checks on everyone crossing – then you have your case for a UI.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Not true – polls have been conducted by very reputable global polling companies like Ipsos and have found the same thing.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Westminster maps aren’t the most nuanced barometer but even by these very little has changed since 2001 on the old unionist v nationalist thing. Which is actually a sideshow really on the united Ireland question. So many people vote for nationalist parties yet are pro-Union: and so many pro-Union people don’t vote. There is a MASSIVE pro-Union majority in N Ireland.