Working towards Irish Unity



Screenshot 2024-03-03 at 20.28.40

The trajectory is a United Ireland

“The trajectory is a United Ireland”, Lord Alderdice told our Westminster debate on ‘The Union and Irish Unity’ last week. He explained that the English were emotionally detached from Northern Ireland and talked about how the DUP had damaged the Union. John Alderdice, was leader of the Pro-Union Alliance party from1987 to 1998. But now he was giving advice to our Pro-Unity audience about the importance of cultivating meaningful relationships with ordinary unionists and the unaligned as we move towards a border poll and a United Ireland. When I asked him why he as a former unionist was addressing our Irish Unity debate he replied that “contexts change”. John knows which way the constitutional wind is blowing and in his own small way wants to shape the debate.

Lord Alderdice is to be commended for sticking his head above the constitutional parapet. I was thinking about him on Sunday while listening to Professor John Tonge of Liverpool University on the BBC say, ”there has been a substantial shift towards Irish Unity” within the Alliance party. Alliance party members supporting Irish Unity now outnumber those who support the Union, new academic research has revealed. Tonge added that support for Unity had increased very significantly in the party since members were previously surveyed in 2004.

Since the NI Assembly election published a number of articles and graphics suggesting that Alliance party members and voters were now more pro-Irish Unity than Pro-Union. In doing so we were met with a mixture of scepticism, ridicule and hostility by some commentators yet here we are. Naomi Long speaking on ‘Sunday Politics’ to Mark Caruthers said she “wasn’t surprised by the outcome” of the new research. She suggested Brexit and denial of EU membership was most likely the catalyst for many in her party moving to support a United Ireland, especially among newer and younger members.

The latest research from Liverpool University also reflects the findings of a recent LucidTalk poll which found that 71 % of Alliance supporters were open to Irish Unity in a decade or more. Since its inception the Alliance party was referred to as the small u unionist party. That moniker is dead. They are now the small u for Irish Unity party. With Unionist hegemony and its majority long gone we now have a 40,40,20 demographic. 40% unionist, 40% nationalist and 20% unaligned made up mostly of Alliance party supporters.

Now that the research confirms more Alliance party members and supporters favour a Unified Ireland over the Union this changes the dial. The argument for a Border Poll just got stronger. It’s now time for the Alliance party to face the constitutional question head on. Its leadership will soon run out of Road if they continue to evade the key question of our time by maintaining an ostrich-like position. Two elections ago the Northern electorate elected a nationalist First Minister for the first time. In the most recent election Pro-Unity candidates out-polled Pro-Union candidates. The dogs in the street know things are changing in the North and the pace of change is quickening. The required evidence for a Border Poll is mounting and for many of us it’s already sufficient to trigger a referendum but unfortunately we don’t get to make that call. So the sooner the British government clarifies the criteria for a border poll the better for everyone.

Naomi Long is a good person, a savvy politician but she needs to add one more attribute to her list of qualities – bravery. Be bold Naomi and address the elephant in the room. Is it Union or Unity for the Alliance party? Take a position or at the very least allow your members to take a position and speak freely on the key question of our time? Stick your head above the parapet like your predecessor Lord Alderdice. He thinks the trajectory is Irish Unity. And you Naomi?