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The 'Others' need to be on the Right Side of History - James McCarthy


As Brexit draws near and decisions appear to be changing on an hourly basis, there have only been two certainties throughout the process; our economy will take a hit and the constitutional make up of the Island of Ireland will be called into question.

Whether we end up with a ‘hard border’, a ‘soft border’ or an ‘I can’t believe it’s not a border, border,’ having two different economic zones on this island will provide additional financial and bureaucratic challenges for businesses and individuals on a scale never seen before.

Until recently I would have been an avid supporter of a second EU referendum or 'Peoples Vote'. However, upon reflection and through listening to those who voted to leave, I have come to the conclusion that a second referendum would be deconstruction, destabilising and undemocratic.

Many of those who voted to leave, particularly in working class heartlands across England, did so out of disillusionment with the establishment. These were the people worst affected by the 2008 financial crash, who were suffering the brunt of the Tory austerity programme and were now seeing David Cameron, the man who was responsible for slashing the funding for services that they desperately relied on, heading a campaign to remain in a trading block which on the face of it, they had seen little personal benefit from.

For many of those people, this was the first time they had exercised their right to vote. What sort of a message do we send them by supporting a second referendum? That their voice doesn’t count? That they didn’t know what they were voting for? If that is the case then we only add fuel to the anti-establishment fire.

The EU as an institution is not perfect and a second referendum would not be out of kilter with their previous actions. You only have to look at the multiple referenda in the Republic on the Nice and Lisbon Treaties to realise that if you disagree with them, you will just have to vote again until you come back with the right answer.

In terms of Northern Ireland's position in the original EU referendum, as a result of the democratic deficit our votes may as well have not been counted. If all 1.2m eligible voters in NI had voted to remain, the result would have been the same and we would still be in political limbo today.

It is clear that the only way to protect our economy is to begin discussions about the future constitutional position of our island. While these discussions have been taking place among civic society, it is time for the Irish government to show leadership on the issue. This was also the view taken by the Oireachtas in August 2017 when a cross-party committee recommended the reconstitution of the ‘New Ireland Forum’ to discuss what a new Ireland would look like.

The economic benefits of a United Ireland have been clear for some time. An academic study published by the University of British Columbia in 2016 found that the Northern Ireland economy would benefit the most from unification with exports initially rising by 5% and long-term GDP per capita increasing by 4%-7.5% after adopting the euro and the Irish tax system.

The report also found that GDP in the Republic could rise by €30m to €152m within a year of unification and that within 8 years, the all-island GDP could be boosted by as much as €35.6bn. While this study was conducted prior to the UK voting to leave the EU, it is believed that unification would have similar benefits post-Brexit.

As constitutional change becomes inevitable, those who identify as Unionist have little to fear. The Orange Order will still be able to march each summer, they will still be able to identify as British and they will still have their civil rights and liberties respected. Whilst I understand many may have difficulty voting for such a constitutional change as they would view it as giving into the demands of Republican paramilitaries and adding legitimacy to their campaign of armed violence, we need to set aside our differences and focus on the economic situation that we find ourselves in post-Brexit.

It is of the upmost importance that those citizens take an active role in the conversations around what a future Ireland may look like. When the day comes, we will still have a health service to run, a welfare state to fund and children in need of an education. Decisions on these issues must be taken with the input of Northern Ireland's Unionists so that they feel welcome in a new Ireland.

The September 2019 poll published by Lord Ashcroft provided interesting reading. For the 1st time, there has been a majority in favour of constitutional change on this island with 51% of those polled stating that they would vote in favour of a United Ireland.

While that poll did not take account of those who self-identify as ‘other’ it did have the leader of the Alliance Party, Naomi Long, as the most popular politician in Northern Ireland and as the most popular among Nationalists, ahead of Sinn Féin’s Michelle O’Neill and the SDLPs Colm Eastwood.

If the growth of those parties who identify as ‘other’ at most recent Local and European Elections are anything to go by, it is clear that those voters will be the deciding votes in any future border poll. However, if those parties are to survive in a New Ireland, it is important that they are on the right side of history.


James McCarthy is Journalism Masters student at Ulster University having recently graduated with a BSc in Politics.

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