Arlene’s wee country said No to leaving EU

Posted By: June 27, 2016

Tom Kelly. Irish News (Belfast) Monday, June 27, 2016

Every fiber of my body is committed to democracy and as such the result of the referendum giving Brexit campaigners a slender majority is final. That said, such a result doesn’t bind me to its full consequences because the Tory right denied the risk elements but now those risks (which are already coming home to roost) are impacting on the prosperity of the majority of people in Northern Ireland who voted decisively to  remain in the EU.

It would be tempting to say to those who voted leave and those who represented them ‘on your own heads be it’ but, unfortunately, their calamity is also ours.

The First Minister for Northern Ireland has said “Our nation has made a clear definition as to where it wants to go. I am very proud of the NI people.” Well proud she may be but ‘our wee country’ that she is so proud of referencing also gave a clear definition as to where it wants to go and it wasn’t out of the EU.

It seems that some in the DUP are more keen on recognizing the mandate of people who can’t vote for them as opposed to those who can. Of course, the Leave campaign in NI didn’t try too hard to court all interests in Northern Ireland- only those who would likely vote DUP. Only four days later it and it seems that Britain has a hangover with over a million people petitioning for a new referendum. The UK far from giving a clear mandate is hopelessly divided and leaderless.

To the credit of sensible Leave campaigners like the businessman Irwin Armstrong and others they recognize that.

Over here, it has been played out as getting one over nationalists. That perspective will come back to haunt the NI Leavers as they, ably abetted by some in the media tried to portray this referendum as a Green v Orange tussle- the reality was far from it.

Four of the NI constituencies —North Belfast, East Derry, North Down and Fermanagh South Tyrone— have unionist MPs and three of those MPs were Brexit champions but the majority of their electors opted for Remain. Unionist strongholds like Lagan Valley, East Belfast, South Antrim, Strangford and even East Antrim didn’t have any great victories for the Leave campaign compared to Ian Paisley’s North Antrim. The margins of victory were much wider for remain in nationalist areas.

Had more unionists echoed Mike Nesbitt’s bravery and shown more leadership like Danny Kinahan and Lady Hermon they would have found willing unionist audiences for their message. The First Minister may not care much for the views of voters in Strabane, Derry, Omagh, Downpatrick or Newry but these blocs of Remain voters in unionist areas are not so easily dismissed.

People like myself had high hopes for Arlene Foster and Martin McGuinness in government but their actual roles as First and Deputy First Ministers are held on behalf of every citizen. When they speak they are speaking for us and not their own supporters. Therefore there’s a very basic fact arising from this referendum- which was  declared region by region and that meant that our administration should then reflect and respect our wishes as democratically expressed. That has not happened. Some in the DUP who are amongst the most anti -agreement and against cross -Border cooperation have mocked Sinn Féin by claiming the referendum result was a reassertion of British sovereignty in Northern Ireland. And therein is the rub.

However, the subtext of relationships and settlements on the island of Ireland between North and South and between the UK and Ireland have always been underpinned by the unspoken, non-threatening common membership of the EU. Leavers are naive if they believe otherwise.

When the poll concluded I felt deflated, disappointed and a little bit diminished.

I felt that the dysfunctional and the disillusionment of English voters had stolen something from me. And they had. But they also stole their own children’s future. They had fears about immigration, sometimes real, mostly not but always exaggerated. These were ruthlessly exploited by Farage and fuelled by Boris Johnson. Unfortunately, those English fears were not our fears or those of London or Scotland.

I have some sympathy for the prime minister but this referendum was unnecessary – he capitulated to Farage’s reactionary viewpoint and it’s now up to a set of disingenuous right-wing Tories to restore confidence in the political, social and economic cohesion of society. I won’t be holding my breath.