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Unity? May 21, 2019

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.

I can’t entirely disagree with Seamus Mallon in the following:

“We made that mistake a hundred years ago when Northern Ireland was set up on the basis of a head count,” he says. “A premature Border poll may deliver a narrow and completely unworkable majority for unity.”
He adds that in the event of unity a separate Northern government may have to be maintained in an Irish confederation to take account of unionist concerns and fears about a united Ireland.
He is writing in The Irish Times today on the publication of a book, A Shared Home Place, which he co-authored with Andy Pollak.

But the logic of his position does raise questions:

He adds: “I have come increasingly to the view that the Good Friday Agreement metric of a bare 50%+1 majority for unity in a Border Poll will not give us the kind of agreed and peaceful Ireland we seek. My concern is that a very narrow vote for unity would lead to more division, instability and probably violence.”

Would he feel more sanguine with a 60:40 majority, or a 70:30 one? Indeed what would be the critical mass of unionism saying no which would prevent unity?

Mr Mallon warns nationalists against imposing by majority on unionists in a united Ireland what was imposed on nationalists in the North a century ago . . . “with the two sides simply changing positions – nationalists in a majority in a ‘united’ Ireland and unionists the sullen, alienated and potentially violent minority”.

Again all true. But still problematic. The point of the GFA/BA was that it – in a sense – broke the unionist veto. Not immediately, but using precisely the terms which unionism itself had outlined the issue – that being their democratic rights with a given geographic space. Now, I agree entirely that democratic rights aren’t sufficient in a context like this. But they’re not irrelevant either. But that works both ways.

And more importantly this is the metric that was arrived at and agreed. Curiously, his idea about a separate NI government somewhat ignores the thoughts of Richard Humphreys in respect of the GFA/BA persisting post-unity, along with its structural elements (though where Humphreys thinks all this ends is a different matter). An Sionnach Fionn has noted the ‘reverse GFA’ approach as a plausible one in a UI and I’d strongly agree. But it may be that the GFA is written in so deeply as an agreement that it would be difficult to rework its structures in a UI in a short period of time.

That may in and of itself address the issues that Mallon raises – after all, such a context would retain many links East/West, specific aspects of the structure would allow for a fairly full expression of unionist identity and so on. There are aspects that will be challenging, most immediately how would North South political links function? The arrival of NI TDs in the Dáil? Presumably yes. But that wouldn’t prevent residual links (possibly through the Lords) to the UK for NI voters.

But none of this is insoluble and I’d suspect the most creative solutions are the ones that will work best – where there is genuine parity of esteem.


1. An Sionnach Fionn - May 21, 2019

The 50%+ or super-majority suggestion for a reunification vote seems pretty suspect to me. And most of those now pushing it are doing so because the chances of a vote being held and being passed in the near-to-mid future are increasing.

To paraphrase Augustine of Hippo, it’s a case of give me a united Ireland, Lord, but not just yet.

The other matter is, how does one qualify what is majority support from unionists? Unionists by definition vote unionist, so how do you calculate when a majority in the unionist community favours a united Ireland if the unionist community is defined by voting unionist?

Unless one adopts the very sectarian headcount that Mallon decries by making it about Protestants and how Protestants vote in the Six Counties? If a majority of Protestants vote SDLP or SF (or AP, GP) then we can hold a referendum?

But then, how do you define the majority of Protestants? 60% of Protestants? 70%? 80%? And how do you define Protestant voters? Would Mallon and company have northern voters declare their religious identity at the polling centres before they can vote in order to work out the numbers?

The whole thing is not just unworkable. It stinks of sectarianism.

And what message does it send to northern nationalists? Stop supporting the ‘RA, stop the war, embrace “democracy” and it will give you a united Ireland in good time when the ballot box goes your way, so just sign up to this international agreement to sort things out peacefully.

And oh, by the way, twenty years from now we’ll rewrite the whole document that you signed up to to stop the conflict in the first place by introducing some new super-majority clause? A clause which will effectively guarantee that a reunited Ireland never takes place.

You might as well start searching through the thatch for the pikes as the GFA and all its represents goes up in flames.


benmadigan - May 21, 2019

And what message does it send to northern Unionists?The irish nats/Republicans will work their socks off to make friends with you, settle down to create an amicable atmosphere in NI and then once Unionists start to trust them as pals, off the Nats will go with a border Poll they’ll expect to win, as we’re all friends now!


WorldbyStorm - May 21, 2019

Yeah, absolutely agree. Hitherto there was none of this stuff about 50%+1. Now there is. It is deeply suspect. Agree too how does one parse unionism. There’s just no way. Again, my feeling is that if democracy within NI was the yardstick then… well… democracy within NI remains the yardstick. They can’t have it both ways. Of course… of course, that doesn’t mean we revert to Stormont MK1 style impositions, it’s about shaping something that people of both national identities can live with.

Liked by 1 person

2. Joe - May 21, 2019

Em. My tuppence worth. Unionists will remain unionists, nationalists will remain nationalists. So what’s happening is demographic change i.e. population change in each camp. The nationalist population is increasing – nationalists having bigger families and more of them staying in NI. The unionist population is declining slightly (?) – unionists having smaller families and more of them leaving NI.
I can’t see it as ever being about some unionists becoming nationalists – that’d be like saying Irish people becoming English people or vice versa.

So at some time there will be a nationalist majority in NI. If and when that results in a majority vote for a UI, we will be in for some challenging times. Anything could happen and probably will. I’ll be six feet under or if not I’ll be in the pub. Best of luck with it.


WorldbyStorm - May 21, 2019

You never know Joe. It could be later, it could be sooner! I agree in the sense unionists are unionist. I disagree that unionists won’t accept or tolerate being inside a UI. My direct experience with people from a formerly unionist background, CofI folk mostly but others too, in the South is that they did adapt. Of course the experiences are different north and south as has been noted before, but if this isn’t a all or nothing approach, if people are willing to allow and accommodate aspects of identity in the north in particular then it could be a transition that would actually change remarkably little day to day and still see people able to express their identity in myriads of ways, political and otherwise.


WorldbyStorm - May 22, 2019

And here’s an excellent example of precisely that dynamic…



CL - May 22, 2019

Mayor Finucane does appear to be a republican, but its not always easy to separate Irish republicanism from Hibernian nationalism, despite James Connolly’s claim that the AOH was the ‘foulest brood ever to come into Ireland’.

“Two great Hibernians meet in Ireland to secure the bonds that tie us together.
President Gerry McGeough of the County Tyrone AOH with Martin Galvin New York State AOH Freedom for All Ireland Chairman and Bronx Division President”

“The 38th anniversary of the SAS killing of Derry IRA man George McBrearty will be marked with a independent commemoration in Creggan this coming weekend….
the commemoration will be chaired by Martin Galvin, the New York based lawyer and former publicity officer for NORAID.
““This year I have been asked to wear an “England get out of Ireland” badge. There is a photo of me being arrested at Free Derry Corner, alongside Martin McGuinness wearing one in 1989.”-said Mr. Galvin.


Pasionario - May 22, 2019

It’s not really about unionists becoming nationalists but about a reasonable number of unionists reluctantly bowing to historical inevitability and agreeing to work to make a United Ireland a success whilst obtaining guarantees concerning their own position within that new polity. Even Peter Robinson has been making noises about this.

In the same way, Southern unionists didn’t become nationalists or republicans in 1922 but still accepted the Free State. Some of them of even ended up in CnaG/FF.

So Mallon is basically right. A narrow vote for unity would be perilous. It would be need to be 60% plus overall to ensure enough acceptance within the unionist community. And it shouldn’t happen for at least ten years.


Pasionario - May 22, 2019

That should have read CnaG/FG. For example, Henry Dockrell was a FG TD in the 30s and 40s. His father Maurice had been elected to Westminster as a Unionist in 1918.


WorldbyStorm - May 22, 2019

Can’t see it happening in less than ten years.


rockroots - May 23, 2019

Well, to split hairs, there’ll be a Catholic majority before there’ll be a nationalist majority, judging by the big disparity between support for nationalist parties and support for Irish unity in opinion polls. In any case, as pointed out, some unionists will probably adapt quite quickly to business and politics opportunities, but actual Irish unity – inter-communal unity, as opposed to Dáil rule – will take generations to complete. Not in any of our lifetimes.


EWI - May 23, 2019

but actual Irish unity – inter-communal unity, as opposed to Dáil rule – will take generations to complete. Not in any of our lifetimes.

Supposedly God Save The King (and the Union Jack) weren’t unknown in Killiney even in the ’40s. As for Trinity and the Irish Times…

So, we’ll survive.


rockroots - May 24, 2019

‘We’ will survive, of course, but Trinity, the IT and the Senate were arguably all means for co-opting a small upper-class Protestant minority into the Free State establishment. It’ll be a very, very long time before the working class of East Belfast feel like they belong in a united Ireland, and it’ll presumably only happen through a mixture of cultural concessions and waiting for a future generation to conform to ‘our’ notions of Irishness.


Joe - May 24, 2019

Waiting. I’d say it’ll be a long wait. They’ll never go away you know.
Good stuff, Rockroots, you make sure and stay on here for any threads on Border Polls and Irish unity.


WorldbyStorm - May 24, 2019

+1 rock roots. That’s precisely why I think a ‘traditional’ UI is doomed to failure. Whereas a more expansive one that acknowledges identities east/west north/south is much much more likely to work.


3. roddy - May 22, 2019

The AOH in the North is overwhelmingly SDLP.McGeough fell out with SF nearly 20 years ago and stood against them in elections 12 years ago.He moved in on the AOH as a vehicle for his absurd views.There are 2 groups in the North which remain overwhelmingly anti SF and they are the AOH and what I term insufferable snobs.While canvassing ,these 2 groups hatred of SF becomes immediately apparent.The AOH in America would be different and is more of an immigrant benevolent organisation and was even used by the”molly maguires” to conceal their militant activities.


CL - May 23, 2019

Martin Galvin, is chairman of the AOH Freedom for All Ireland Committee. He is close to McGeough and campaigned for him in the Assembly elections a few years back.


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