Posted: 2019-11-21

Nationalists and Republicans have a responsibility in framing the discourse and debate of the benefits of a New Ireland which will be inclusive to all.


THIS year’s All Ireland Humanist Summer School held in Tullamore,  Co Offaly, in September had as its theme Humanism in a New Ireland. A wide spectrum of speakers highlighted the progressive liberal changes mainly in the Irish Republic around the Educate Together movement, and the liberalisation of same sex marriage and abortion referendums. It was glaring that these developments were restricted to the south and that the Dark North had gotten a lot darker under the pro-brexit DUP.


In his talk Uniting Our Shared Island, Professor Colin Harvey, from Queen's University Belfast, stated that the discussion for Irish Unity was gaining momentum and that the Brexit chaos had added to the debate on the constitutional future. This did not mean that Irish Unity is any closer but suggests a willingness to contemplate this option especially if there is a no deal Brexit.


Regarding Brexit itself, there appears to be little political support for no deal outside England. In fact the expressed wishes of large majorities of members of the Scottish Parliament and National Assembly of Wales, and five of the main political parties in Northern Ireland are opposed to a no deal. It is therefore highly likely that a no deal or a hard Brexit will lead to fresh calls for a border poll on Irish Unity and for a second Scottish independence referendum. 


If a border poll were to occur, ideally it would be best if 60/70 per cent of the North's population were to vote yes, but common sense – despite Seamus Mallon muddying the waters – indicates standing over the democratic norm of 50 per cent plus 1.


Some Unionists and Loyalists seem confused by the Good Friday Agreement as they express surprise that Nationalists, Republicans, liberals and freethinkers dare talk about a United Ireland. The GFA acknowledges that a substantial section of the people in Northern Ireland share the legitimate wish of a majority of the people of the island of Ireland for a united Ireland and recognise the birthright of all the people of Northern Ireland to identify themselves and be accepted as Irish or British or both. The idea of a referendum or border poll is embedded in the GFA and is formally endorsed in domestic and international law. This is something that the DUP and loyalist bloggers like Jamie Bryson fail to grasp.


Prime minister Johnson's toxic language in the recent Brexit debates and the use of traitor and no surrender reminds one of the inflammatory language of the Reverend Ian Paisley during the creation of Ulster Resistance in the 1980s. It is worrying that credence is given in the media to Bryson's comments as well as other banned loyalists paramilitaries who use similar language to stoke up sectarianism around perceived sell outs etc. While a loyalist backlash against any agreed Brexit is possible, it will not be on the scale of the 1974 Ulster Workers’ Council or the creation of Ulster Resistance.


Over the past two years, internal and external shocks such as RHI, Brexit, a Tory/DUP alliance, and the repeal of the Eighth Amendment in the south of Ireland have upset the politically stagant equilibrium in the North. Over this period the DUP has done more to antagonise soft nationalists, social liberals and even Unionist Remainers, helping to render Irish Unity a less daunting prospect for many.


Nationalists and Republicans have a responsibility in framing the discourse and debate of the benefits of a New Ireland which will be inclusive to all. While such events as Féile an Phobail have provided a forum for political and cultural discussion across communities in Belfast, this year’s Wolf Tone concert when several old IRA songs are sung with gusto can lead to negative perceptions for building an inclusive movement for progressive change. 


Likewise, the Orga Sinn Féin placard with the slogan ‘Brits Out’ at this year’s Freshers’ Fair at Queen's University was insensitive and petty. Wouldn't it have been more intelligent and radical to have a placard saying ‘Brits in a New Ireland’ or ‘Unionism in a New Inclusive Ireland’? Building a persuasive case for unity amongst the unionist community is imperative and the above examples are detrimental to providing guarantees on rights, equality and identity in a New Ireland.


There will undoubtedly be a general election in the UK within the next couple of months and, whatever the outcome of Brexit, the Tories under Johnson will totally dominate the English electorate while the SNP will do likewise in Scotland. In Northern Ireland the main focus should be in opposing the DUP Brexiteers and creating a political pact between all the pro-Remain parties as recently suggested by Claire Bailey of the Green Party. 


Comments about Sinn Féin's abstentionist position is a diversion – has the SNP been listened to in the British Parliament regarding Brexit? The strategy should be to reduce the number of DUP MPs and, if a progressive pact is agreed, the DUP could lose its three Belfast seats. What a happy thought to finish on!  


Roger Kelly, November 2019