Border Poll - Poison Tree or Fruit On The Vine?

Alex McCrory with food for thought on any upcoming referendum in the North on Irish unity.

A future border poll on Irish unity would follow along the same lines as the Good Friday Agreement via concurrent referenda. Furthermore, the Agreement dictates that the British government would have full control over every stage of the process: from deciding when to call a poll - to the framing of the question to be put before the people; to legislating for the outcome, all matters being within the purview of the British parliament acting as the de jure government of the United Kingdom, of which the north is an integral part.

The above instantly presents a dilemma for Irish Republicans when deciding on the proper approach to be adopted to a future border poll.

Many republicans view the GFA as the poison tree, therefore, it's provisions for deciding the future constitutional status of the north infringe upon the right of the Irish people to decide it's own future, free of all impediment and outside interference.

The above concisely encapsulates the traditionalist republican perspective as opposed to the new thinking of Sinn Fein. Since the United Irishmen, Republicans have denied Britain the moral and/or legal right to interfere in the affairs of the Irish people. Viewed in this context, the GFA represents an interference like all other treaties before it. Of all the treatis struck by the invaders and natives over hundreds of years, none have restored independence to the Irish people.

However, times and circumstances change, and what was right one hundred years ago is not necessarily right today. I have said before that Republicanism must not be an ivory tower for the pure of heart only. To allow this to happen would be to consign oneself to the outer margins of national life. Unless Republicanism is relevant to the real concerns of the people, it will become a lifeless ideology bereft of hope and a vision for the future.

A living, breathing Republicanism must take stock of changing conditions on the ground. It must be able to grapple with the big issues of the day and, more importantly, to engage with them in a meaningful and effective way. Core values and principles are what provide the necessary framework for understanding new ideas in a manner that is consistent, but also one that is flexible and innovative. We cannot shy away from the hard questions or seek comfort in old certainties.

The two issues of Brexit and a border poll require the immediate attention of Irish Republicans.

I have detected a reluctance by some to fully engage these issues because of uncertainty as to where they might lead to. While Brexit was not on the horizon twenty years ago, future demographic trends were indeed discernable. I often wonder if this was factor in republican thinking at the time? Whatever the answer to that question, today we are facing the tipping point in terms of the population balance in the northeast. Many unionists will not be sleeping soundly in their beds at night dreaming catholic/nationalist baby factories churning our future voters.

Finally, whatever policies we formulate they must be capable of sustaining credible propositions. How we chose to engage with Brexit and a border poll will ultimately determine our relationship with any broad campaigns in the future. A national debate on the way forward involving the most progressive sectors of society is an urgent requirement. Without this, the usual suspects, a combination of imperialist interests, will collectively control these processes in order to limit their potential to produce transformative outcomes.

Alex McCrory is a former republican prisoner and blanketman.

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Anthony McIntyre

Former IRA prisoner, spent 18 years in Long Kesh. Free Speech advocate, writer, historian, humanist, and researcher.

4 comments to ''Border Poll - Poison Tree or Fruit On The Vine?"

  1. A bit of nuanced thinking there Alex. Unfortunately, purism doesn't do nuance so you might well swim against the tide. Good piece.

  2. A ‘new republic’ premised on the core values of the 1916 Proclamation — national freedom, and sovereignty, equal rights and equal opportunity, the ownership of Ireland by the people of Ireland — is the way forward. I don’t care what mechanism delivers that end, though I suspect a ‘Good Friday’ border poll will not do so and will, instead, lead to a further compromise with the British state, in what Adams has described as a ‘United Ireland not as traditionally envisaged’.

    Nevertheless, we must make and press the argument that were a border poll to be held and passed that a sovereign united Ireland is what should then proceed. Indeed there is a legal requirement that this be the case as it is explicit to the terms of the Agreement, written into its bilateral component — the treaty between London and Dublin known as the British-Irish Agreement, which is a legal and binding text. Noting that this is so and arguing that such should proceed does not require us to endorse or internalise the legitimacy of British constitutional constraints, these having been alluded to by Alec in his piece.

    Just as an aside, demographics were very much part of the thinking twenty years ago. I recall sitting in Sevastopol Street and raising questions about how the deal on the table could lead anywhere further, given its embrace of the Unionist Veto. Jim Gibney quickly talked that down, arguing that we weren’t accepting the Unionist Veto, that we were only accepting that things would remain as is in the interim and until such times as the nationalist community became the majority community, which was anticipated to be the case right about now. It was very much a case, then, that the demographic argument was in place at that time. For me it was the key reason why the Republican Movement permitted the leadership to accept and work the deal — that and the release of the prisoners.

  3. Sean,
    What happens if a border poll is a resounding defeat for republicans, where do we go from there? What if most of the under 35s are as apathetic to a united Ireland as some I have spoken to? in future debate will republicanism be a benefit or a hindrance to a united Ireland? The younger generation seem to be very non violent, when you leave traditional heartlands, will association with violence be a disadvantage? Something else I wonder about, republicanism as well as the Scottish independence movement seem to be borderline obsessed with brexit, is that not a dangerous tactic, especially if it proves not to be the disaster people anticipate. Finally are we ever going to be able to convince unionists their civil liberties and human rights will be intact in a united Ireland and of course do the people of the 26 have the appetite?

  4. A more palatable road to a United Ireland might be the rapid steps that the actually existing Republic has taken (abortion liberalisation and Equal Marriage) towards being a secular, modern liberal democracy upending completely the old adage that Home Rule would be Rome Rule.


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