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'Sectarian headcount' or 'democratic imperative': Is it time for a border poll?

Sinn Féin have called for a border poll in light of the Brexit vote, but there’s not much of an appetite for one among other politicians.

THERE HAS OBVIOUSLY been huge political fallout on the other side of the Irish Sea as our UK neighbours try to predict what the future of the nation will look like.

However, the Brexit vote has inadvertently sparked other debates in relation to Scotland and Northern Ireland, two jurisdictions where the majority voted to remain within the European Union.

Scotland has come out all guns blazing with its First Minister Nicola Sturgeon threatening to block Thursday’s decision in parliament, as well as putting a second Scottish independence vote on the table.

Meanwhile, focus on Northern Ireland has centred on the border with Sinn Féin demanding a border poll.

What is a border poll?

A border poll will ask the people of Northern Ireland whether they want to remain part of the United Kingdom or create a united Ireland.

Depending on the result, the Republic would then vote on the matter.

Why now?

Under the Good Friday Agreement, the Northern Ireland Secretary of State can initiate a border poll in circumstances where it is clear public opinion had swung towards Irish unity.

Following the Brexit result, Sinn Féin came out to say now was the time because voters in Northern Ireland want to remain in the EU.

Louth deputy Gerry Adams and First Minister Martin McGuinness said the Good Friday Agreement is an international agreement that the Irish government should support.

“The British government has no democratic mandate to represent the views of the north in any future negotiations with the EU,” said Adams.

There is now a democratic imperative for a border poll.

Sinn Féin’s Ireland South MEP Liadh Ní Ríada reiterated the view, stating that the British government no longer has a mandate to represent the views of the North in any future negotiations with the EU.

I am now reiterating our previous calls for a referendum on Irish unity.

Knee jerk reaction 

Speaking on The Week in Politics on RTÉ yesterday, Sinn Féin’s Deputy Leader Mary Lou McDonald denied claims that calling for a poll now is a “knee jerk reaction”.

However, the calls from Sinn Féin were rejected by Northern Ireland Secretary of State and Leave supporter Theresa Villiers – the one person who can trigger the vote under the Agreement.

She rejected the party’s demands, saying there are no grounds to hold a border poll on a united Ireland.

She said it would not be “helpful” in the current situation.

In terms of support for a border poll, there isn’t much of an appetite for one among other political parties.

The Minister for Education Richard Bruton said that now is the time to give reassurances to people, not to raise issues that are divisive.

On the same programme, Green Party member Catherine Martin said calling a border poll now would be “opportunistic” gamble that is “destined to fail”.

‘Sectarian headcount’ 

She said now was not the time for a “solo run”. Martin also believes that a border poll would be nothing more than a “sectarian headcount”, while Labour’s Brendan Howlin said there is no evidence that such a move would change the status quo.

In fact the evidence is rather in the other direction,” he continued. “A lower nationalist turnout in this referendum, and a reduced nationalist vote in the recent assembly elections, are examples.
We should not devalue the border poll by an inopportune triggering of its use.

Speaking in the Dáil during the eight-hour long Brexit debate today, Anti-Austerity Alliance/People Before Profit’s Ruth Coppinger said given the existing level of sectarianism in the north, a border poll would be “particularly divisive and polarising”.

The so-called democratic vote would be, in essence, a coercion of one million Protestants into a united Ireland. Such sectarianism is not helpful at this time.
We need real unity of ordinary working class people North and South.

What do the people want? 

Results from a survey for a joint RTÉ-BBC TV production last November showed that two-thirds of people in the Republic of Ireland would like to see a United Ireland in their lifetime, but it’s a different story north of the border.

download (2) Source: Prime Time

Compared to 66% in the Republic, 30% of people in Northern Ireland said they wanted a United Ireland in their lifetime. Among those surveyed in Northern Ireland from a Catholic background, 57% answered Yes and 29% answered Don’t know.

In the Republic, the overall support for a reunited Ireland dropped to 31% “if it meant paying more tax”.

Would you like to see a border poll held in Northern Ireland now?


Poll Results:

Yes (4700)
No (3511)
I don't know (516)



Read: Enda Kenny wants an open border between the Republic and Northern Ireland>

Poll: Would you like to see a second referendum on Brexit in the UK?>

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