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More on Robison’s intervention… August 1, 2018

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.

I missed one key component of Mary Lou McDonalds repositioning on Border Polls and Brexit, thinking she was ruling one out in advance or during an ‘agreed’ Brexit, which made sense given the UK government determines if or when one can be held. But as noted in today’s media she also ruled out one on foot of a hard Brexit which would be absurd for SF to do. So at least she’s initiated what tightly is termed a U-turn in the media this morning. And worth noting EWIs criticism of her original stance in comments was therefore correct.

That said this from Gerry Moriarty in the IT on Peter Robinson’s heterodox views in relation to negotiations on a UI is useful and dovetails with thoughts expressed here over the last few days:

Prof Peter Shirlow, a historian from a unionist background, believed that what Robinson was doing was trying to encourage unionists to make that very case for the union. He counselled that Robinson is a shrewd politician and that there were good reasons why his advice should be heeded.
“I think [for unionists] that what Robinson in some ways is getting at is that you have to wake up to the demographic changes, you have to wake up to what can be the destabilising impact of Brexit, and you need to make a case for the union,” said Shirlow, who is head of the Institute of Irish Studies at Liverpool University.

And this is crucial:

Unionists, as reflected in their reaction to the Glenties speech, feared that it would embolden nationalists to press more vigorously for a Border poll on a united Ireland.
Under the Belfast Agreement, Northern Secretary Karen Bradley can only call a poll if there are indications it would be carried. From recent polling and the last Westminster election there are no such indications, said Shirlow.

Until that is the case nothing changes and a key issue nationalists and republicans need to address is how to attain that goal – presumably by making a negotiated UI attractive to sufficient unionists that a majority will emerge in favor prior to demographic change and presumably on foot of a hard Brexit.

But deeper dynamics are in play in the medium term and these are what unionism must address.

But with far more Catholics than Protestants in primary, secondary and third-level education in the North, the demographic trend is pointing towards an eventual Catholic majority which could happen in a generation or even over a shorter timeframe.

Because the alternatives, I suspect, are as noted previously negotiating from relative strength and negotiating in a context where a Border Poll has been run and won by nationalism and republicanism.

And Shirlow references precisely this:

Shirlow said what Robinson understands, but many unionists don’t, is that in terms of the future of the union the most important group in Northern Ireland are middle-class Catholics. That is the group who may be persuaded for material reasons, such as economics and the British national health service, to stick with the union rather than opt for a united Ireland in a Border poll. But insulting Catholics or disparaging a language and culture will only serve to push such people into the united Ireland camp.

There’s also an interesting contingency in Shirlow’s own thoughts as expressed in the following:

Shirlow sees Robinson’s comments as a sort of “wake-up call” for unionism: “Irrespective of what you think of Robinson this is a shrewd person and I think he understands demography, and I think he understands diversity in Northern Ireland society, and I think he understands that Northern Ireland can be saved, that it can continue for some time. But I think what he is critically saying is a traditional type unionism will not save the union.”

Note that ‘saving’ is equivalent to ‘continuing for some time’.

The direction of travel remains pointed in one direction. That may be true, but a thoughtful and nuanced unionism of the type Shirlow describes could indeed delay the process by quite some time – perhaps near enough indefinitely with a very very slow reverse GFA taking place, one that would take many many decades or longer.

And yet what sort of unionism is displayed at this point?


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