the right of the people of the island of Ireland to bring about a united Ireland, subject to the consent of both parts. Therefore, in order for Irish unification to take place, border polls must be held in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
The Good Friday Agreement states “that consent for a united Ireland must be freely and concurrently given in both the North and South of the island of Ireland.” This is widely interpreted depending who is interpreting, to mean that a future border poll must be held in the six and twenty-six county states at the same time, to run concurrently. That would amount to an all-Ireland poll so, in that case, surely the result should be counted on an all-Ireland basis.? Nothing so simple, it will not run that way. There should be no problem running the border poll in both jurisdictions concurrently, but it is after that the problems arise. The two jurisdictions have different rules of administration to allow for results of the border polls to be implemented concurrently. For example, if the vote goes in favour of unification in both jurisdictions, which will then be one entity, they cannot be implemented at the same time because a referendum will be needed in the twenty-six counties and not in the six counties unless the two are immediately recognised as one unit. That cannot happen either because articles 2+3 would need reverting back to their original form, pre-1998, and that would take another referendum in the twenty-six counties! All complex stuff but relevant all the same.
Secondly and very importantly the GFA states that:
if at any time it appears to him (the Secretary of State) that a majority of those voting would express a wish that Northern Ireland should cease to be part of the United Kingdom and form part of a united Ireland the Secretary of State shall make an order in Council enabling a border poll.
For the first time in the 101year history of the six county statelet Roman Catholics now outnumber those of a Protestant and kindred denomination, the unionist’s worst nightmare. The result of the 2021 census were 45 percent Roman Catholic with 43 percent of people who claim to be of the Protestant or kindred denomination. The rest make up no religion or other, such as Judea, Islam etc. Therefore, if the criteria for a border poll is based on religious denominational numerical superiority of those who may vote in favour of unification, then that would appear to have been reached and that is assuming all Protestants are unionists, which they are not, and all Catholics are for unification.
Do religious denominational status translate into political and constitutional preferences? In the six countries those who identify themselves as British stands at 31.9 percent, down from 40 percent a decade ago. Those who identify themselves as Irish stands at 29.1 percent, up from 24 percent ten years ago. This still gives the pro-British side a small majority, however should this trend continue, that 29.1 percent could soon become a significant majority for unification. The group who would have the deciding factor in such a border poll are those who consider themselves “Northern Irish,” neither British nor Irish which stands at 19.8 percent. It is unclear how these people, probably Alliance Party voters, would vote in any border poll. Their participation and voting preferences in such a poll would be very significant. The Alliance voters may be split on the national question and in that case the faction with the most, pro-union or pro-nationalist, may carry the day in a border poll, which would be decided in the six counties on a simple majority basis. The basic problem is in the wording of the GFA, “if at any time it appears to him” that a majority of people may prefer a united Ireland. This is something which may never “appear to him” who may, as the representative of the British Government, also have a hidden agenda for the continuation of partition, and we would be waiting for hell to freeze over before we get a border poll.
Of course, the Secretary of State for “Northern Ireland” could ignore both the census results of 2021 and the make-up of the Northern Ireland Assembly, or indeed the preferences for or against union with Britain. He could, despite evidence to the contrary, still say in his/her opinion that they do not feel a referendum to be necessary or warranted even if it is plain a majority may favour Irish unity. They would not have to give a reason, though at this moment in time and given the 29 percent for unification against the 31 percent who consider themselves British the Secretary of State may hold his opinion based on these figures. He/she will not perhaps be able to hide behind these statistics for much longer. It is these contradictions and lack of clarity which should have been ironed out by Sinn Fein in particular during in the negotiations before any consideration about signing the GFA could be given. They were not and these are the problems which may arise as the push by Sinn Fein for a border poll will now increase, or certainly should.
Then we have the unofficial reasons for not holding a border poll, especially if it is feared the vote might go in favour of unification. A united neutral Ireland would not be in NATOs interests and, more importantly, the United States the real power behind the Atlantic alliance. The British Army of occupation in the six counties are also NATO troops, perhaps the second powerful after the USA. The deep-water ports around the six-county coast are very important to NATO and the British Army are custodians of these. Of course, this could never be cited as a reason for not holding a border poll, that would never do, therefore the Secretary of State would just stick to their right of denying such a poll, as it does not “appear to him a majority would express a wish that Northern Ireland should cease to be part of the UK.” This does not have to be true. If on the other hand the twenty-six County Defence Forces were to join NATO that would cast a different light on the situation. It would be them, not the British, as custodians of the deep-water ports where responsibility may fall. This is not to suggest for one moment that the twenty-six County Defence Forces become members of NATO, definitely not, but it could be used as a carrot by the British in exchange for a border poll. Would there have to be a referendum in the twenty-six counties on NATO membership? Is defence a constitutional issue? I don’t think it is or can find no direct reference to it. Could, therefore, the Government of the twenty-six counties who appear hell bent on joining NATO also use the unification argument as a carrot to sell NATO membership to the population?
As a socialist republican I strongly favour Irish unification as the British have no right, and never have had, to dictate terms and policies on any part of the island of Ireland. That said, and given where we are at, I can see the complications involved and they lay at the feet of those who signed the GFA without clarification on a number of issues. We should not run around with the notion that the figures released make a border poll inevitable, because they do not!
A point of observation – what I have, perhaps cynically noticed is the Taoiseach ranting on and on about the evils of Russia in the Ukraine. Whether his overplaying of the situation 6,000 miles away is right or wrong they could, to a cynic, be a means of avoiding talking about the changing demographics in the six counties. While he is talking about Russia, he does not have to address the subject of a border poll, or any other important issues a little nearer home, like Ireland!! A cynical view? Probably, experiences in life tend to make me that way.