Working towards Irish Unity



SteuveFE, CC BY 2.0 , via Wikimedia Commons
SteuveFE, CC BY 2.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

It’s anti-democratic to not clarify criteria for a Border Poll

A difficulty of the Good Friday Agreement is the lack of clarity around the precise criteria required to trigger a border poll. Is it election results to Westminster? The Stormont Assembly? Or council elections? Or something else entirely? That the decision lies with a British government led by an untrustworthy Prime Minister Boris Johnson is not good. What is clear though, is that a 50 percent plus one vote in a referendum is enough to exit the Union and reunify our country. So let`s examine how the evidence for or against a referendum stacks up?

The North has 8 unionist MPs yet 9 pro United Ireland MPs and 1 Alliance MP. Every inch of the 310 mile border is represented by United Ireland MPs. If we take the number of MPs as a measure then time for a border poll.

Unionists have lost their majority in Council elections, Assembly elections and Westminster elections. Their story is one of decline at every single election. 100 years ago the statelet was deliberately gerrymandered to ensure a 2 to 1 unionist majority into perpetuity. That numerical dominance is over. In only two counties in the north of Ireland do unionists outnumber nationalists –  Antrim and Down. But even here they fall just short of over 50 percent in both. In contrast, nationalists not only outnumber unionists in Armagh, Fermanagh, Derry and Tyrone but they are an absolute majority in each with 54%, 53%, 61% and 60% respectively. The two biggest cities Belfast and Derry elect more United Irelanders than unionists.

After every election the Union gets weaker and the pro-unity case stronger. To be clear, we are now well past the point where a majority any longer exists for the Union. It has gone and it’s not coming back. In any other democratic society that would be sufficient reason to trigger a border poll and test public opinion. To demand as the British PM and his Secretary of State for Northern Ireland do that nationalists must be in a majority to have a referendum but unionists can maintain the status quo without a majority is fast becoming an issue of Equality.

In the recent Assembly elections the number of votes for parties and independent candidates choosing a pro-UK position is 363,891 (42.1%). The number backing pro-Irish unity is 358,768 (41%). A difference of just 5,123 (1.1%).

140,0550 (16.2%) of the electorate backed parties like Alliance, Greens and a slew of independents who are currently agnostic on the constitutional question. Interestingly, evidence from the PR election just gone indicates high numbers of this cohort gave their transfers to Irish unity candidates. In addition as Kevin Meagher has already pointed out, the latest Liverpool University/Irish News poll found 54% of Alliance second preferences head to nationalists – the SDLP. (33%), Sinn Fein (15%), Aontu (1%) and People Before Profit (almost 5%). 

In contrast, less than 23% transferred to the combined Unionist parties. Similarly 40% of Green party voters’ second preferences switched to Sinn Fein (30%) and People Before Profit (10%) with the DUP way down (5%).

The upshot is that though there is still have work to do in order to definitely win a border poll, United Ireland parties are more attractive to the constitutional agnostics than pro Union parties. Though 5,123 votes separate the two sides from the election just gone, the combined evidence presented here indicates the conditions already exist to call a border poll.

But even if we ignored all the evidence presented, why would there need to be a majority of Pro United Ireland MLAs in the Assembly for a referendum to be called – but no requirement for a majority of Pro UK  MLAs for the Union to be maintained? Is that democratic? Of course not. This democratic deficit requires urgent attention and an international and diplomatic campaign to shine a light on British government’s double standards It is time the Brit government was held to account for its refusal to clarify to precise criteria and conditions required to trigger a referendum on Reunification.