Military expediency dictated that Britain retained an interest in having a foothold in Ireland for many centuries. But on 9 November 1990, Peter Brooke, the then Northern Ireland (NI) Secretary of State, declared that Britain had “no longer any selfish, strategic or economic interest” in NI and would accept unification.”
The Good Friday Agreement (GFA) of 1998 declared that a border poll could be called at the discretion of the Sec. of State, and the fallout of Brexit, allied with the failure of the local legislative Assembly to meet for two years, has brought a persistent call for the same from Sinn Fein (SF) in recent days.
Brexit was not supported by the majority in NI, but the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), established by the late Rev. Ian Paisley, are the majority party in NI and have been in a strong bond with Mrs May’s Tories in recent times with the aim, in their words, of “consolidating the Union”. However, any hardening of the border is likely to do the exact opposite. High risk politics are the current order of the day.
The reader would do well to be informed of the following facts: The DUP have never polled more that 23% of the voting population, and SF never more that 21%. Therefore 56% do not vote for either. Of that 56%, 1/3 never vote, 1/3 vote for “other parties” and 1/3 just vote at important times, such as for the GFA which had a 82% turnout. The latter 1/3 would vote in a border poll.
The current political vacuum has increasingly led to the middle ground finding its voice, and they want to see the GFA implemented fully, and they accept that a border poll could well be called within the next decade, and wish to be presented with clear facts to enable them to vote intelligently rather than on the basis of a slogan written on the side of a bus.
While the DUP and SF will have many in their ranks that would vote with their heart in preference to their heads, the middle 56% are more savvy and could be described as “soft” unionist or nationalist, and more likely to see economic considerations as crucial in any future new dispensation being agreed within these Celtic Islands.
A vote to remove the border would not necessarily lead to a single entity United Ireland, but indeed all outcomes should be considered. The status quo, a new Ireland, an independent Ulster, and indeed perhaps a new relationship with Scotland could be considered. The times they are a changing and the relationship twixt England and Scotland is visibly fraying as the former’s nationalist body seem to be increasingly and somewhat disturbingly finding its voice.
While all this unfolds, by a combination of inevitability and “events dear boy, events”, the security situation in Ireland will increasingly come under the microscope.
While SF are undoubtedly operating a peaceful, though I would contend a somewhat flawed strategy, there are still perhaps a few hundred in the background who are wedded to using terror to achieve their aims.
The forces and services of the law are constantly negating upsurges, and are likely to continue to need to do so for some time. But surveillance systems and communication techniques are at least as smart as the perceived “enemy” in the majority of cases, and the population within which they reside are very different to the “hear no evil, see no evil” attitude prevalent during the troubles. In the current developed world local terrorism is considered passé by most observers.
On the unionist side, the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) and its myriad of off-shoots, still have not forgiven Paisley for leading them up to the top of the hill in 1986, and then seemingly abandoning them there, when he tried to form the Ulster Resistance. Old sins have long shadows. Many believe that any loyalist reaction to a border poll and its results will be dictated by the loyalists themselves, and not the DUP. They have also stated that they are democrats first and foremost and will abide by the decisions of the ballot box.
The days ahead are fascinating, but I do not think there is a great appetite for the preservation of the Union in mainland Britain. The Republic of Ireland still has some convincing arguments but have history pushing them strongly. The EU is unlikely to be found wanting when called.
The Irish border’s days are likely to be numbered, unless, and this is very possible, Sinn Fein blows it by constantly playing to their core constituency and antagonising the “56%” middle ground.