Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness who called for a ‘border poll’ in the North following the Brexit result

Recent speculation about a referendum in Northern Ireland on reunification of the island has sent a shiver up my spine. A divisive referendum in Northern Ireland alienating both sides further is not what anybody needs right now.

A referendum result in favour of reunification would stress the political system in the South at a time when we need to deal with Brexit in an undistracted way. To paraphrase Augustine of Hippo: Lord, grant me chastity, continence and a united Ireland, but not yet.

Tom O’Rourke,
Co Wexford.

Border poll (Irish Times letters)

Previously: Please Note Your Nearest Exit

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57 thoughts on “Too Soon?

  1. Anomanomanom

    Why would we want a united Ireland when in reality we don’t have a pot to pass in. The North would cost millions we don’t have not to mention the political hassle.

    1. Paul

      Billions, not millions.

      A united Ireland is not something we can afford monetarily, politically or any other way right now.

    2. Sheikh Yabooti

      Norn Iron cost the UK £9 billion in 2009; it cost £6 billion in 2011. They can keep it.

  2. Steve

    +1 not to mention the very real possibility of civil war on the island. I’d be voting no.

  3. Medium Sized C

    I’d argue that now is probably the best time for it.
    If the economy is already about to go to the dogs, then at least we can “rebuild” with a reunified Island.
    I also don’t have faith in the Irish political establishment “Dealing with Brexit”.

    I don’t believe any political establishment can deal with any political or economic factor in an “undistracted way” because to believe that would be akin to believing that the entire global political and economic system
    will just take a break for us to figure out Brexit.
    Which would be a profoundly bloody stupid thing to believe.

    Lets face it, we will bumble around until the EU decides what to do with us. Which is IF Brexit actually happens in a country with a political system that can be summarised as “First winner of the popularity contest gets to tell us what to do”.

    I’m speaking in theoreticals here of course, the only clear opinion I have either way is that Sinn Fein, a party who’s core political policy is reunification, are absolutely right to use this opportunity to make this call and everybody criticising them for it is being naive and/or anti-democratic.

    1. Kolmo

      1 million more taxpayers, a full Ireland soccerball team and bits of the island won’t be missing in print, the small cohort of hardcore genocidal overly-tatooed loyalists will have to be gently shown that the rest of the population on the island are not monsters under the bed.

      1. Rob_G

        “1 million more taxpayers”

        – who will cost us 11 BILLION pounds per year, EVERY year.

        A few hundred euro per year in water charges nearly brought down the last government; imagine the outcry when we have to pay an extra few thousand euro per person for the “solidarity with our northern brethren” tax.

        1. Iwerzon

          Reparations – Britain will be expected to continue to give financial assistance for quite a while. It created partition in the first instance and will have a legal obligation to compensate accordingly.

    2. realPolithicks

      Has anyone asked the people of “norn iron” what they might want to do?

      1. Kieran NYC

        There was extensive polling done early this year before the 1916 celebrations, I believe, for some TV thing.

        Even the majority of nationalists weren’t wild about it. Of course opinions may have changed in the last week.

        1. realPolithicks

          Looking at it from the outside it appears that culturally people from the north are very different to those from the south. I think its something which should be approached very cautiously to avoid potential conflicts down the road.

        2. Shayna

          Polling was extensively carried out by BBCNI in the North of Ireland prior to the Scottish Referendum – targetting specifically teenagers, to identify the result of a similar referendum occurring here. (The Scottish voting age was lowered to 16.) The result of the poll was an overwhelming “No, we are N.Irish”. They are kinda happy with the status quo. One of the commenters mentioned, convincing the heavily tattooed Loyalist types to embrace Ireland may prove a tad difficile, well – that’s not a problem – it won’t happen. I’m Catholic by nurture, Atheist by education (Belfast joke, “Are you a Catholic Jew, or a Protestant Jew” – same “joke” applies to Atheists.). This is a broken land, much like Palestine – there’s still too much hatred and distrust, political parties, police on both sides of the border, governments both London and Dublin. The Brexit was majoritized (I know that’s not a word, but it should be) by the English vote (apart from London). I used to care – now, not so much. No-one else seems to care about Ireland and our future, I give up!

  4. Eoin

    I think the timing is really poor on this. When Scotland had it’s referendum it might have made sense for Scotland to leave the Union when oil was over $100 a barrel. North Sea oil would default to an independent Scotland and the nation could have done well with oil sales. But now with oil so low Scotland is in no position to leave the Union and will remain dependent on England for subsidies for now. What happens if Sinn Fein get their referendum and we all say NO to reunification? Sinn Fein no longer has any mandate and they will need to figure out exactly what they now stand for. I don’t think were in any position to reunify this island. I don’t even think there’s as much of an appetite for it anymore. More headaches for us all. Plus a disaffected Unionist community that would surely not take it all lying down. Nightmare. Think before you speak McGuinness, you’re not Gerry Adams.

    1. Medium Sized C

      No mandate?

      What do you think mandate means?
      The party currently called Sinn Fein has never had a greater mandate. They dropped one seat in the last assembly elections and have never held so many seats in the republic. They have literally never had a mandate like they have now.

      Also, the threat of violence from disaffected people is a reason not to do something now?
      Did the unionists win the 70’s or something?

      1. Nigel

        Do you want to heedlessly and recklessly pretend the threat of violence doesn’t exist? Why the hell would you steer the country towards a potential conflict for the sake of ideology and expediency? Using a political crisis as an opportunity to co-opt a significant and potentially hostile population is a recipe for a long, bloody, drawn out catastrophe and yes that is a very good, excellent, spot-on reason not to do something.

        I mean, I presume it’s a moot point because so long as a majority in NI vote against it it’s a non-runner. I wouldn’t underestimate opposition from the Republic, either

      2. Nigel

        Also, SF certainly have a sizeable mandate, but how much of that stems from populism in the south rather than nationalism re the north? It may suit SF to act as if all their supporters are nationalists through and through, but I wonder how true that really is.

    2. Kieran NYC

      + the Republicans up north will get a shock when the majority down south votes No.

  5. ahjayzis

    Sinn Fein doesn’t seem to actually want this.

    I mean if they want a poll to succeed they need to woo unionists – what are they doing to do that? What’s their strategy there? They seem to talk over their heads, to the converted, even though no vote can pass without them.

    Until they’re substantially on board, I’d be voting no. A 32 county Ireland with a massive minority (15-20%?) of people who consider themselves strangers in a strange land sounds apocalyptic. Look at the damage forcing a much smaller percentage of Irish nationalists into the UK could do to Britain. The place would go up in flames.

    1. Nigel

      Everything they’re saying about it seems to be pretending the Unionists don’t exist – this must be opportunistic bad-faith posturing, because it’s simply not realistic and not a solution to Brexit for NI.

    2. Kieran NYC


      There’s no point in trying this if there’s a chance it might squeak through with 51% of the vote.

      You’d have to be getting high 80s to avoid absolute chaos.

  6. Gorev Mahagut

    It wouldn’t be a referendum. Technically it would be an opinion poll.

    This is the difference:
    – If you draft a Bill, or a Constitutional amendment, or negotiate a treaty with a foreign state, and hold a plebiscite on the understanding that a YES vote will result in the Bill / amendment / treaty becoming law, then that’s a referendum.
    – If you ask everyone an either-or question (like “do you prefer apples or oranges” or “do you want to be in the EU or not” ), then that’s an opinion poll. The result doesn’t actually change the law or anything, it just shows a preference.

    In the UK, both the Scottish Independence “referendum” and the Brexit “referendum” were actually opinion polls because no proposed legislation/treaties/amendments were put before the people, just an apples-or-oranges question.

    1. Medium Sized C

      It would be a referendum.
      They were both referenda.

      You are applying a very specific definition to a thing that is not that specific.

    2. Clampers Outside!

      True that… but as many commenters on the UK news said, that if the UK govt ignored the ‘opinion poll’ that was Brexit, there’d be carnage.
      So, in effect… it may as well have been a proper “referendum”, or so the news head commenters were saying over the other side of the Irish Sea.

  7. Rob_G

    In a way, it would be good – the ‘NIremain’ side would win, and it would put the question to bed for another generation or two.

  8. Eoin

    Sinn Feins mandate is to achieve a united Ireland. Now is a real bad time to go for a referendum on that. If it fails to pass, they are left without any mandate as their current mandate would then be impossible to achieve. And it’s not like additional campaigning will change minds. This particular matter has been well thought over already.

    1. Jaden

      The only thing worse for Sinn Fein (as a party) would be if a United Ireland was actually achieved. It’s a very distinct case of “Job done, what do we need you guys for now?”. They may re-invent and evolve into a more conventional political party, but the first All-Ireland election would probably see them go the way of the greens.

      1. Rob_G

        I’m sure that they would find a way to recreate themselves – in the republic today, you don’t really hear them talking much about reunification; they are more of left-ish populist party.

        1. Declan

          They’d have to square their opposition to water charges in the south to charging for them in the north among other things

  9. Wayne Carr

    Imagine putting all those people into a state that they were opposed to. Telling them they were nationality that they didn’t agree with. How could any right minded Irish person agree with that, no matter their view on unionism.

    Yes, the people of Derry, South Armagh, West Belfast, and elsewhere, have been poorly treated.

    See what I did there?!

    Seriously though. A majority of people in the north want to be in the EU, like the rest of Ireland. We could get funding from them to help sort out the financial issues; one has to wonder if there has ever been a better time to attempt it?

    The criticism of Sinn Féin is also incredibly stupid, and it shows how little people actually know about the party… who are more popular than they’ve been since the 1920s in this country.

    1. Rob_G

      “A majority of people in the north want to be in the EU, like the rest of Ireland.”

      – yes; but I will think that you will find that, given a choice between remaining part of the UK and leaving the EU, or leaving the EU to remain part of the UK, a majority would go for the latter.

      “We could get funding from them to help sort out the financial issues”
      – from where? Bear in mind, the cost of supporting Northern Ireland equates to the entire bank bailout every two years or so.

      1. ciaran

        but I will think that you will find that, given a choice between remaining part of the UK and leaving the EU, or leaving the EU to remain part of the UK, a majority would go for the latter.

        Isn’t that the same thing ?

    2. ahjayzis

      Sinn Fein in 1920’s = Fine Gael and Fianna Fail. And they’re doing far better than the rump party that kept the name, in fairness.

      1. Wayne Carr

        In the north? I don’t think so. Unless you are equating the Fine Gael with the DUP. In which case, fair play to ya!

        But seriously, Sinn Féin rising, and FG and FF trending down over the last 20 years.

    3. Iwerzon

      You seem to assume that in the event of a united Ireland that the Rep of Ireland would just assume or annex the 6 counties. No way Jose! It would be a carte blanche, a new Ireland and would need to be built upon inclusivity, cultural diversity and regional identity. (Corcaigh Abú!) Or, you could just give the north their 26 counties back and let them sort it out from their end.

      1. ahjayzis

        I’d be up for making Belfast the capital, actually. Means we could move away from just ONE big city and spread the development a bit. They already have the parliament buildings etc.

  10. leesider

    Surely any reunification will involve a continued assembly in the north, at least for a period of time, and continued involvement of the British State in N Ireland affairs – similar to the position of the Republic to the north at the moment. The truth is that reunification has been happening in many different ways since the GFA. What do people expect reunification to look like? Like the Berlin wall coming down? The transition is currently on-going and while a vote will eventually be needed, it will take time.

    There are loads of moderate Unionists and people who consider themselves northern Irish rather than Irish or British. That is the constituency which will swing reunification eventually. If Brexit sends the UK back to the stoneage then that constituency will be swayed faster than it would have if they had retained their status in the EU. I don’t think the consequences of Brexit will be anywhere near that dramatic so the swaying will be more minor but still a significant extra incentive toward reunification.

    As has been said above, not fulfilling a democratic right because of fear of violence from a minority is no democracy.

    I think consideration of reunification is an inevitable consequence of Brexit and I would certainly vote yes in any reunification referendum.

    1. Kieran NYC

      “There are loads of moderate Unionists and people who consider themselves northern Irish rather than Irish or British.”

      What about an independent NI? I could see that getting a consensus faster than joining the ROI.

  11. C Sharp

    “England’s difficulties are Ireland’s opportunities”.

    I think there’s a bit of playing to the party faithful going on here, along with a bit of party political PR, by recourse to a “traditional” theme of Irish nationalism There won’t be a poll anytime soon and SF know it. I think the timing is unhelpful in terms of winning over reluctant moderate unionists, but this is sort of getting lost in the Brexit noise anyway and these soundings appeal to this Irish nationalism and boost SF profile at a time where the unthinkable seems to have veered toward the possible.

    With everyone reeling throwing another shock out there seems less radical than it otherwise might.

  12. Formerly known as @ireland.com

    “More loyal to the half crown than to the Crown” is apt here. If the 26 counties becomes wealthier than the UK – unlikely I know – then a lot more people up north would be happy to re-unite.

    What is the UK decides it can’t afford the luxury of maintaining the north of Ireland? If Scotland leaves, the English might decide to jettison the troublesome province with no oil.

    A slow transition is far more likely than a sudden switch to a united Ireland. I can see people choosing a third option, an independent ‘wee country”.

  13. Jake38

    No thanks.

    One stupidly crafted completely unnecessary referendum allowing the disgruntled underclass to be led by the nose to vote against their own economic interests in pursuit of a mirage is quite enough for one lifetime.

  14. ahjayzis

    Sinn Fein never seem to recognise that if we were to join the 26 and the 6, both states would have to come to an end. There’s zero, ZERO prospect of the unionists allowing themselves to be folded into the existing Republic.

    Flag would have to go, it’s almost a taboo object to them. New anthem. Commonwealth membership. A federal structure to allow Northern autonomy so bye bye Bunreacht a hAon. An NHS (woo!) so they’re not actively voting to diminish their health chances.

    Abolition of the state we’ve built since 1922 would knock tens of percent off the unification vote in the south, that’s before the economic hardship we’d all have to face while we integrate and fix the northern economy.

    Every time it’s discussed this is ignored, total fairy tale stuff that unionists will abandon their distrust and contempt for the Republic and gleefully jump on board. They’re willing to put up with having NO voice in their national government rather than join this state. And on the other side that there are no lengths people in the south will not go to, no economic hardship they won’t suffer in order to unify. Sinn Fein just blithely ignores the unionists as if they’ll die out, and has this caricature of southerners as having UI as their first priority – uniting Ireland is either all a cynical front from them or they’re just insanely childish.

  15. Tish Mahorey

    “Sinn Fein never seem to recognise that if we were to join the 26 and the 6, both states would have to come to an end.”

    Good point.

  16. Tish Mahorey

    “To paraphrase Augustine of Hippo:”

    Chortle, chortle.

    Ah, the Methodist notes.

  17. some old queen

    One of the most striking differences between North and South Ireland is the amount of public housing up there. I don’t know what the percentage is but I would guess around 40% as it is visible in every town and city. Of course the Housing Executive link rent to incomes so it kind of keeps people in a certain social class which is not good.

    Some people seem to view the entire Protestant community up there as being one block when in fact they are broadly three. We all know the DUP flat earth types and the drum banging loyalists but the third, largely UPP and Alliance quietly go about their business and they will be the ones who decide.

    As for the call by SF. I think it was more a two fingers at the DUP than being serious. Scotland leaving the UK will be the deciding factor. If the Scottish can work with the Irish than so can the Unionist population in the North. Never under estimate the ability of pragmatic Presbyterians to move with the times.

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