A Guest Post by Morpheus:
The nationalist parties in Northern Ireland currently hold 40% of the seats at Stormont, 40% of the seats in our local councils, 45% of Northern Ireland’s Westminster seats and topped the last European elections by a country mile but the question still needs to be asked – what are they doing about the one issue which the SDLP ranks as Number 1 in their list of ideas and Sinn Féin…well let’s just say we know their feelings on the matter. Catalonian-style mock border polls in highly partisan areas with claims of gerrymandering to get the results they want? Please. The media gave them the attention they deserved – zero.
When talking about the cost of Scotland’s bid for independence The Belfast Telegraph’s Ed Curren recently asked the question:
“What price a united Ireland now, or in the future? The war of words over Scotland’s economy should raise this fundamental question on this side of the Irish Sea, yet nationalist and republican politicians continue to ignore it.”
Curran goes on to add:
“A border poll on the future of Northern Ireland cannot be conducted in an economic vacuum. Nationalism lies at the heart of the political debate in Northern Ireland, yet virtually no one – including the media here – is asking the searching questions which, in Scotland’s case, must be keeping Alex Salmond awake these nights as the referendum approaches. What would be the cost of nationalism for the people of Northern Ireland? Can anyone produce a coherent economic strategy which might convince some unionists of its merits? Why are those who vote for nationalist parties not demanding answers for themselves and their families? Or are they simply, as the opinion polls suggest, paying lip-service to the aspiration of unity, while acknowledging they are better off in the UK?”
My problem with nationalists drawing up their own framework is that it won’t be looked at by half the population, north and south of the border, because it will be seen as unreliable Sinn Féin ‘back of a cigarette packet’ propaganda. And they’d probably be right. And why should they look at it based on uninspiring displays like this from senior Sinn Féin leaders? It would be an exercise in futility.
In my opinion any framework needs to be completed by an independent organisation who will work hand in hand with the guarantors of the GFA, the British and Irish Governments. Only they will have full access to their relevant Ministries (especially the tax departments) to get answers to the key questions regarding all the options available to the people of Ireland. This framework will put in black and white what a new Ireland would look like in terms of education, health, economy, judiciary, social security, political representation etc and then the electorate can finally make an informed decision about what is best for them and their families. It could be that that the people of Northern Ireland decide that our constitutional future lies within the UK but at least an informed electorate will make their informed choice based on facts and not myth – an example of which comes from a recent conversation when someone asked why anyone would want to join a united Ireland when it costs €100 to see a GP when in reality the national average is less than half that at €46. The electorate deserves to make a decision on facts.
To further demonstrate the laziness of the nationalist parties on this key issue, the constitutional future of Northern Ireland is very clearly set out in The Good Friday Agreement:
(1) It is hereby declared that Northern Ireland in its entirety remains part of the United Kingdom and shall not cease to be so without the consent of a majority of the people of Northern Ireland voting in a poll held for the purposes of this section in accordance with Schedule 1.
(2) But if the wish expressed by a majority in such a poll is that Northern Ireland should cease to be part of the United Kingdom and form part of a united Ireland, the Secretary of State shall lay before Parliament such proposals to give effect to that wish as may be agreed between Her Majesty’s Government in the United Kingdom and the Government of Ireland.”
Therefore the first thing that should concern the nationalist parties is the aforementioned poll and the mechanism for getting one set out in the GFA:
“1. The Secretary of State may by order direct the holding of a poll for the purposes of section 1 on a date specified in the order.
2. Subject to paragraph 3, the Secretary of State shall exercise the power under paragraph 1 if at any time it appears likely to him that a majority of those voting would express a wish that Northern Ireland should cease to be part of the United Kingdom and form part of a united Ireland.
3. The Secretary of State shall not make an order under paragraph 1 earlier than seven years after the holding of a previous poll under this Schedule.”
The nationalist parties should be asking the Secretary of State:
“What exactly do you need to see in order for it to appear likely to you that the majority of those voting would express a wish that Northern Ireland should cease to be part of the United Kingdom and form part of a united Ireland…do you need to see something in the elections results? Something in the census? Something in the NILT? A combination? What?”
But they haven’t even done that! They have no idea where they are going so how do they expect to get there?
The Secretary of State should be looking to clarify matters as well to protect herself and both communities. Should it be left to a single person – a person who none of us cast a single vote for – to make such a decision without making it crystal clear on what basis they make that decision? What if the next SoS has a completely different take on it? If the criteria for example is for a nationalist party to hold the First Minister’s position then the wait might not be that long but if the criteria is that more than 50% of the seats at Stormont must be nationalist then it puts the likelihood of a poll back by decades and we can all put the issue on the back burner.
As stated, the nationalist parties have been incredibly lazy and it is probably because the SDLP are currently next to non-existent and Sinn Féin have been focusing their efforts on making themselves powerhouses on both sides of the border but Ed Curren’s question still rings true:
“Why are those who vote for nationalist parties not demanding answers for themselves and their families? Or are they simply, as the opinion polls suggest, paying lip-service to the aspiration of unity, while acknowledging they are better off in the UK?”