We are looking at a border poll within the next ten years, and reunification could happen within 20 years. I believe events will move a lot faster than any of us could ever envisage. Just look at Brexit, who could have predicted that five years ago?
Brian O’Neill may be right or he may be wrong. But we need something more than speculation. A new debate has been ignited in the Irish Times. Prof Pete Shirlow goes for developing the potential of what’s in plain sight and he tilts at the speculative tendency.
The University of Liverpool Northern Ireland General Election Survey, conducted in January 2020, found that when asked what the most important issue was for respondents, a mere 5 per cent stated constitutional issues, compared with more than 80 per cent choosing education, health, jobs and the economy.
These are the very people who were dragged through a barbaric conflict and who listen daily to commentators and politicians arguing about constitutional and legacy issues, but never about jobs and investment. The reality of these people’s lives is increasing inter-community connection and augmented mutual dependence across the island of Ireland. But commentators and politicians rarely choose to speak to this reality, trapped as they are in the binary framework of the constitutional question.
These debates in Northern Ireland do not draw from the well of data and fact. This is an intellectual space which is increasingly infused by rhetorical devices and a refusal to deal with evidence in a manner that reflects caution and non-partisan positioning.
Counter Prof Brendan O’Leary
Demographic change is converting cultural Protestants into an electoral minority. Unionists with a big U are already a political minority. Maintaining the union therefore depends on the consent of cultural Catholics, whose opinions on that union are more volatile and averse than those held among those of Protestant heritage.
Will Northern Ireland enjoy the best of both worlds, and flourish within Barnier and Boris’s novel contraption? Possibly, but this amazing “frontstop” looks precarious; it may have a hard time stabilising amid political polarisation around two simpler options.
“Scrapping the protocol” is the DUP’s ambition; the obvious alternative is Irish reunification within the EU.Scrapping the protocol” is the DUP’s ambition; the obvious alternative is Irish reunification within the EU.
Granted Brexit has made a staggering start at Dover and Belfast. The DUP’s thinking is in transition, to put it generously. But will “the border in the Irish Sea” become part of normal, weary of the old binary? Never mind summoning the jury. Convincing evidence that might lead to a trial hasn’t been gathered.
Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London