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The ‘contrived architecture’ of the GFA/BA? May 26, 2022

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.

Pat Leahy has an article on the issue around how a Border Poll would be called. And he argues that clarity on that issue is needed. 

The good news for unionists – despite their tendency to treat even mention of the subject as evidence of Lundyism – is that on any remotely fair consideration of any of those criteria, there is no sign that a Secretary of State could conceivably call a Border poll.</p>

There is voluminous opinion poll evidence that there is no majority in Northern Ireland for a united Ireland, or anything like it, or any prospect of there being one for the immediate future. The election results, as Varadkar noted, have returned fewer united Irelanders than before. There is no majority in the Assembly. And the Irish Government is strongly against a Border poll.

Significantly, there is little sign that any of this will change in the foreseeable future. Indeed, the growth of the northern “neithers” – those for whom politics is not primarily an orange or green issue – may be the thing that remakes Northern Irish politics, rather than the rise of Sinn Féin. It certainly undermines the general expectation held by so many people in Ireland and elsewhere that a united Ireland is inevitable.

That’s to pin a lot on a single election (the loss of SDLP seats for example) and to assume that the results are absolutely coterminous with a border poll as well as assuming that that supposed ‘neithers’ hold no opinions on the border, which as the IT itself noted with regard to other polling simply isn’t true. It is also to miss the pull factor that the EU has for some within Northern Ireland who formerly would be clearly unionist but who have gone over to ‘neithers’.  

As it happens, and said this many times on this site, I don’t believe a border poll would be held and won within the decade, at least not under a Tory government and likely not during that period given the need for the pro-UI constituency to expand.

Leahy ignores a further point.

Currently, Unionism and Nationalism are, at least to judge from the Assembly elections, running neck and neck. Quite some change from the situation even twenty five years ago. The logic of Leahy’s own argument is that a contest between Unionism and Republicanism could be run where the latter won because the ‘Neithers’ absented itself from that contest. It’s just barely possible in that unlikely, indeed probably impossible, context that Republicanism/Nationalism could win a slightly larger percentage. I don’t believe that to be a plausible outcome, but it is the logic of his position.

In reality, one suspects ‘Neither’ would come into play because faced with the issue of the Border they would have to make a decision and I’m willing to bet at this point they would be more Unionist inclined than otherwise. But the point being that Leahy’s rather conveniently places Neither outside the equation. That’s absurd but it shows how complex these issues actually are. 

The unity question is now part of our political agenda and debate in a way that it wasn’t when the Belfast Agreement was negotiated and signed in 1998 – partly because of the rise of Sinn Féin to prominence in the Republic, partly because the alienating effects of the Troubles are abating – it would be better to have some degree of clarity about how the British government might come to a decision to hold a Border poll. Not least because there is a presumed onus on the Irish Government to hold such a poll in the Republic if the British give the go ahead for one in the North.

And in fairness he notes that the situation has changed in other respects:

Then he adds a new condition.

Nonetheless, the decision-making process would presumably involve some combination of the elements mentioned above – opinion polls, election results, votes or resolutions in the Assembly – as well as the assent of the Irish Government.

Surely, given the overall context, this is a decision for those in Northern Ireland to make and then it is for the government of the Republic of Ireland to respond. But the idea that the assent of the Irish government would be required given all else being equal, polls, results, resolutions in the Assembly, seems to me to introduce a particularly noxious hurdle. 

But then Leahy can straight-faced write the following:

With all this in mind, the British and Irish governments should work together to agree the criteria for a Border poll. That should be part of a re-examination of the 1998 agreement to take account of the rise of the middle ground in the North and the inexorable dissipation of the binary politics – and its contrived architecture – of orange versus green.

Contrived architecture? He seems to suffer the same problem as some others as regards what the GFA/BA was about which was arriving at a dispensation within which those in favour of the Union and those in favour of a United Ireland could express those goals politically and work towards those ends while also working with each other and sharing power. It wasn’t constructed to put together a ‘middle ground’. Indeed, rarely will I find much to applaud in Dan O’Brien’s writings but however gratuitously sharp he made the point only a week or two back that it was innumerate to think that the ‘middle ground’ had risen and he was correct. It has consolidated but at the expenses of the GP and the SDLP and perhaps a part of the UUP. 

It may escape Leahy, though how and why given he’s written a piece on a border poll is difficult to understand, but the border remains the central issue of politics in Northern Ireland, defining parties and policies and so on. And even not to take a stance on that is to take a stance. 

And Leahy doesn’t address a point raised by some this last week. Would the current British government, even were the conditions right for a Border Poll hold one, given their track record on international agreements? 


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