Working towards Irish Unity




Britain’s just not that into Northern Ireland

John Alderice is not known for hyperbole.

In fact, the quietly-spoken former Alliance leader and speaker of the Northern Ireland Assembly, who now sits in the House of Lords, usually keeps a pretty low profile.

Until the other day.

‘It’s all over bar the shoutin’’ was the title of a post on his personal blog.

Widely-reported in the Northern Irish media, Alderdice’s analysis of the recent local elections and what it means for the Union, was coruscating.

Unionist candidates had taken 19,000 fewer votes than nationalists, meanwhile early indications showed Alliance voters’ transfers are now ‘moving closer to the position of the SDLP, if not SF, than that of the unionists,’ he wrote.

Not only that, but the demographic changes in Northern Ireland are ‘proceeding irreversibly’ with a noticeable trend ‘as we go down the age profile.’

Post-election chatter about unionist parties collaborating more closely was pointless.

‘They no longer have the numbers…’

In the absence of a functioning executive and assembly, Alderdice predicted the ‘inevitable trajectory’ is towards ‘de facto joint authority.’

He correctly pointed out that the Good Friday Agreement was the ‘last best hope for unionists’ but they simply ‘failed to build on it.’

‘They did not grasp that it was they, not Sinn Fein, who needed the Northern Ireland Assembly to work and for that to happen they needed to treat nationalists, as well as others, and even sometimes each other, more fairly and with more respect,’ he wrote

Perhaps his most sagacious point is not about Northern Ireland, but British views towards it.

Citing a ‘profound change’ in attitudes on the British side of the Irish Sea since he entered the Lords in 1996, Alderdice reports there is now ‘no emotional attachment to Northern Ireland.’

Moreover, if anyone harbours a belief that the situation would be retrieved by the election of a Labour government, ‘they are much mistaken.’

Britain’s just not that into Northern Ireland’ was a chapter title in my book, ‘A United Ireland…’

Alderdice underscores the point perfectly.

It’s a cliche to draw attention to his previous profession as a consultant psychiatrist, but an irresistible one.

The piece reads like the feedback from a counselling session.

Unionists are the ones who need to re-engage with reality and alter their behaviour.

Although Alderdice doesn’t profess to speak for the Alliance leadership, it hints at the party’s general view, as conversations about a border poll intensify.

The prospect of greater Dublin involvement in the short-term, with a vote to leave the UK in the longer-term.

With Britain now utterly ambivalent.

Kevin Meagher is author of A United Ireland: Why Unification is Inevitable and How it Will Come About and What A Bloody Awful Country: Northern Ireland’s Century of Division.