Dan Boyle: Northern Rights

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From top: Steven Agnew, who has resigned as an MLA in the Northern Ireland Assembly, with Claire Bailey, who succeeds him leader of the Green Party in Northern Ireland; Dan Boyle

A friend and colleague of mine, Steven Agnew, recently announced his retirement as an MLA at Stormont. He is joining a renewable energy NGO from where he can continue to promote a Green vision from a more secure position.

He and his Stormont colleague, the now leader of the Green Party in Northern Ireland, Clare Bailey, have experienced huge frustration as members of an assembly now pushing three years in mothballs.

Both have worked assiduously in their constituencies despite that. The quality of their work helped produce significant advances for the Greens in Northern Ireland.

In recent local elections there the Greens doubled our seats to eight. There was an especially strong performance in Belfast, where the party now holds four seats.

The Greens in Ireland is an All Island party. We operate in both jurisdictions under autonomous structures. Our position on the constitutional question is locked into the Good Friday agreement.

It isn’t that we Greens are agnostic on the ‘settlement’, it is that all our energies are being spent in trying to construct a new politics in Northern Ireland.

There are some signs that a new politics might be starting to take hold. The growth in support of The Greens is also being matched by a renewed support for the Alliance Party.

It is clear that there is a growing army of voters in Northern Ireland that does not identify with the Two Tribes approach to politics, an approach that has bedevilled the place and its history.

Part of the unravelling of Brexit has created the possibility of a poll on Irish Unity. This has excited some, others view the prospect with more trepidation.

Changing demographics, seen through the filter of a sectarian head count, holds a realistic chance of agreeing to an United Ireland.

More likely it would produce a Brexit type 52-48 result in favour of staying in the UK. Those promoting the poll will purse their lips then claim that inevitable victory will follow at the next poll, that will follow in another seven years.

But what kind of victory would that be? Most probably we will seven years of heightened tensions of the type that has blighted Britain since its Brexit referendum.

The debate we should be having is asking what is the benefit of a referendum on Irish Unity won on the basis of 50% plus one basis?

Creating, in what would be a new country, an instant discontented minority would hardly constitute Unity.

If we are serious about a successful Unity referendum we should be agreeing on mechanisms that more properly reflect consent.

Such a mechanism might be a super majority of 60%, or 40% of those entitled to vote.

If a referendum on Irish Unity was won without the support of a considerable number from within the traditional Unionist community, it would be a victory that be quite Pyrrhic .

That isn’t to discount the reality that Northern Ireland itself was formed without any such democratic niceties. The question I would pose is should we bring about a new Ireland, through the flawed and failed decision making of a dying empire.

Or can we have a new Ireland brought about on a to be sure to be sure basis.

Dan Boyle is a former Green Party TD and Senator and serves as a Green Party councillor on Cork City Council. His column appears here every Thursday. Follow Dan on Twitter: @sendboyle

Top pic: Rollingnews

19 thoughts on “Dan Boyle: Northern Rights

  1. garrett

    If there was a poll on a United Ireland tomorrow, the majority of people North and South would reject it.
    NI is a basket case;
    It costs 12 Billion euro a year to keep it going
    40% of jobs are public sector, 200,000 (20% in ROI)

    Not to mention the bigotry, racism, nutjobs who support Quinn.

    No thanks

    1. scottser

      if there was a poll on a united ireland tomorrow, the majority of people north and south would vote for it. NI has as many nutters, racists and criminals as dublin, limerick or cork does and probably costs more to keep the likes of leitrim going.
      we would be fools not to seek a united ireland.

      1. Rob_G

        Water charges of a few hundred per household nearly brought down the last government; I think that a ‘reunification solidarity tax’ of over €2k for every man, woman, and child in the state would be a hard-sell.

      2. Cian

        If there was a poll on a united Ireland tomorrow, I think scottser is right, a big majority south and a small majority north would vote for it. (Hearts)

        If there was a poll on a united Ireland in 6 months allowing informed debate about the realities of it (I’m ignoring Brexit and any possible fallout), I think garrett is right:, a small majority south and north would reject it. (Minds)

      3. millie vanilly strikes again

        I certainly wouldn’t vote for it. We have more than enough problems without adding all that sectarian bullpoo to the mix.

        Until they get their house in order, the Brits are welcome to deal with the mess that they created.

        1. Bertie Theodore Alphege Blenkinsop

          I had visions of us roaming a United Ireland with Wolfhounds by our side and a clatter of ginger kids in tow.

          Way to shatter my dreams.

          1. Cian

            Do ye not know your Irish history?

            ’twas constant battles, coo-stealing, wife-swapping, and general shenanigans between the various provinces.

  2. Louis Lefronde

    I think it was Brendan Behan who said Canada will be a great country when it’s finished. He could have been speaking about his native country. The island of Ireland is a very strange place, and ‘Norn Iron’ in particular. Whereas the likes of Sinn Fein might dream of reunification as a goal, I suspect many people south of the border – possibly a majority, would vote against it on the basis that it would present too many problems.

    Put it this way, you have two competing forms of nationalism (Irish & British) accompanied by two extremes (Republicanism and Loyalism) both of which are rooted in the 20th century and both incompatible. None are particularly appealing, and none have a vision of what Ireland might be like if reunification ever occurred.

    If reunification became a possibility – which I very much doubt. I cannot see how either camp (the extremes) would give sufficient ground. The extremists treat their version of “nationalism” almost like a religion.

  3. eoin

    Congratulations Dan on the Green Party winning eight seats at the Northern Ireland local elections in May. That’s 8 out of 462 by the way, Dan probably didn’t have enough space to give you that context. Add to that the two MLAs (out of 90). What a powerhouse! Will they be holding their Ard Fheis at Crokers? But it’s true, they did increase their seats by 100% to 8 in May, which you might think is impressive until you learn PBP increased their seats by 400% (from 1 to 5, but just look at the %!).

    The only truly growing party in N Ireland at present is the Alliance and they’re taking a serious bite out of the progressive unionist and nationalist vote, with a handful of effective politicians and a non-sectarian approach.

        1. B9 Again FTW

          Wearing underpants
          Stockpiling junk food cartons
          Scaring local kids
          Collecting decades old decaying newspapers

          What have YOU done rob? :)

  4. eoin

    And, if memory serves, there is now a majority on both sides of the Border in favour of a reunified Ireland. It’s quite amazing that no-one is banging on the secretary of state’s door to pressure him into complying with the terms of the Good Friday Agreement, and hold the Border Poll now.

  5. Gringo

    Let Boris build his bridge, then the royalists can trot back to the fatherland from whence they came, leaving our fourth green field free and unsullied.

  6. some old queen

    SF are chomping at the bit but IMO at this time, discussions about a united Ireland are a complete waste of time.

    We don’t know if Brexit will even happen as yet and we certainly don’t know what form it will take. The only thing for certain is that post Brexit, the amount of people in favour of unification will increase and the harder Brexit is- the larger the vote will be.

    Assuming Brexit does actually happen- give it 1-2 years to when the shrinking of the British economy has fed into the public finances and people are really starting to feel the bite- and, the reality of a new border has sunk in.

    As for how much it will cost to run NI, figures being plucked out of thin air are just that- apart from the British government, no one knows and maybe even they don’t- but, no one appears to be taking into account the cost benefit of such.

    All should be laid out by an independent International body which has no allegiance to either side- before any vote.

  7. Mé Féin

    60% vote. Why not hand the unionists an outright veto regardless of how few in number they will be in coming years.
    Good man, Dan. That’s the kind of muppet thinking the Glasraí specialise in. No wonder you were so successful in government.

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