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.