Under the British-Irish Agreement, the United Kingdom has committed to a ‘sovereign united Ireland’ in the event of a ‘Yes Vote’ border poll. Often confused with the Good Friday Agreement — a separate and earlier text agreed between parties in the Six Counties (though supervised by London and Dublin) — it is this lateral treaty in which the requirements for constitutional change in the North have been codified.
It should be noted that this treaty is a binding international agreement between two supposedly sovereign powers. It is also stand alone and will continue in force no matter what becomes of the Good Friday Agreement or its structures, which are currently threatened by the ‘Brexit’ withdrawal of Britain from the European Union.
None of this is without consequence for Irish Republicanism. For regardless our views as to the legitimacy of the above, it is this which will likely dictate whether a future United Ireland — our core objective — is to emerge. This is the current political reality.
In this sense, while the national rights of the Irish people should in no way depend on majority consent from the rank of a contrived gerrymander, in the event such a majority were arrived upon — something more likely at this point than previously imagined — it would be remiss, on our part, not to insist that Britain stand by what she has signed up to.
Whether agreeable to ourselves or not, this is the most likely path towards constitutional change at this time. It is important in this regard, then, that we be aware of as much and seek in turn to impact how all of this shapes and plays out. This need not require us to internalise the legitimacy of the process, its terms or parameters. Indeed we must ensure never to do so, as this is precisely what Britain has long hoped us to do.
Instead, while cognisant, yes, of political agreements that act upon constitutional realities, we must stand over the premise — to hold fast independent of the border poll process or anything further as yet to be concocted — that Britain has no democratic title to Ireland and should leave, allowing all of the Irish people to determine their own affairs — as is their basic right.
We must likewise be aware, though, that should a border poll be held and won it would give increased succour to the argument for a British withdrawal. While that does not mean we sign up to its virtue, or even that this is what will pass in such an event, this need not prevent us from acknowledging that reality.
In this sense, Republican strategy should be tied into a wider process than a mere border poll — one that sets out what is to unfold in the event of Irish Unity, rather than to arbitrate its underlying merit. This can run alongside any initiative that sets towards unity, coming to pass regardless of what political instrument gives rise to the same.
Critical here is not how unity is achieved but what form, in turn, it will take, with who will be authorised to determine that form being of paramount concern. Should Irish Unity be realised, the Irish people, freely and of themselves, should determine the Ireland they wish to live in. This should be so whether it proceeds via the terms of existing agreements or should it be effected by some other mechanism.
Should that be the position Republicanism stands over, we would avoid the internalising of Britain’s constitutional constraints while maintaining a capacity to adapt to changing circumstances — utilising such to better effect our fundamental aims and objectives, themselves found ultimately in the Irish Republic.
We must, though, deal in reality. Republicanism in its current state cannot hope to dictate the process of change. Rather, what we must aim toward is to exert maximal influence on those who will. Reaching the people through a direct campaign on Irish Unity is the best means before us in this regard. For if THEY want a Republic, as the one we imagine, then political decision-makers — at least in Ireland — will be forced to respond accordingly.
With Britain in the throes of a constitutional crisis, twinning with changes to the demographic fabric of the North, Republicanism needs to up its game. The damage that Brexit is certain to do Ireland renews the imperative that unity proceed. It is here at this critical time where the Republican effort must focus, with all means to advance as much on the table for consideration.