Every election is a border poll in north

Posted By: May 06, 2017

Every election is a border poll in north

Patrick Murphy.Irish News. Belfast.Saturday, May 6, 2017

We are going to have an even more sectarian election than usual but this time we are going to pretend it is all about the economy.

While most political parties will initially refer to Brexit, international trade and hard and soft borders, it would appear unlikely that we can avoid sectarian division on issues such as the Treaty of Rome, a possible Border poll and the promise from Brussels of a united Ireland within the EU.

These topics will keep the parties on their sectarian toes, particularly with a possible Stormont election later in the year. It will not be helped by Theresa May playing the Orange Card and the EU now trumping it with a green one, much to the delight of nationalists.

All we need now, say Sinn Féin and the SDLP, is a border poll and the EU will rush to our aid, just as the French fleet was meant to in 1796 and Germany promised help in 1916. (Neither helped us in the end.)

Oh dear, you say, what a sad view of our politics. You could be right, or maybe we just have some rather sad politics.

It will not be a popular view, but it is hard to avoid the conclusion that the election is essentially a contest between two types of unionism. Unionist unionists want political union with Britain. Nationalist unionists want political union with 27 other countries.

For the first time in modern history, no major political party in Ireland is arguing for Irish political independence. Before the Brexit referendum, this column suggested that, like Norway and Iceland, Ireland might consider membership of the European Economic Area (EEA).

This allows the free movement of goods, people and capital between member states and the entire EU. However, EEA members retain national democratic accountability through political independence from the EU, which is largely unaccountable to its 500 million citizens.

The column’s proposal was less than popular. The concept of Irish political independence appears to be dead even though, rather intriguingly, we celebrate the 1916 Rising with undiminished fervour.

While it is understandable that SF and the SDLP should support close economic ties with Europe, it is difficult to find their explanation for advocating Irish political union with the EU, in which all key positions are appointed, not elected.

Maybe their election manifestos will offer clarification. Perhaps it is because EEA membership would cost Ireland more, without the same benefits in return from the EU. That is a good point, but it suggests (maybe quite reasonably) that Irish independence has a price.

If it has, what exactly is that price, how should we determine it and who in Ireland has the right to set it? Yes, that indeed is a complex issue. Maybe it is better to beat the drum for 1916, then close our eyes and think of Brussels.

Although there may be some anti-Brexit support among Unionists, the forthcoming election appears a bit like a political

re-run of the First World War, with an added twist. Whereas Nationalists and Unionists fought for Britain against Germany in 1914, modern nationalists have gone over to the German side. This time the trenches will be in places like North Belfast and Fermanagh.

(The Irish always had a wonderful history of fighting other country’s wars. We were just never that good at winning our own.)

You will have your own view on which side we should support, for example, in the current war of words between EU President Juncker and Theresa May. Politically, there is little to choose between them.

As prime minister of Luxembourg, Juncker was responsible for huge tax concessions to multi-national companies. Press reports earlier this year claimed he even secretly blocked EU efforts to tackle his tax avoidance policies. Meanwhile Mrs May’s government openly allows international companies such as Amazon, Google and Starbucks to pay little or no tax in the UK.

So how do you decide which side to support? The Irish government had a secret tax deal with Apple, so does that explain its (and presumably northern nationalists’) support for Juncker against Mrs May?

Never mind all that, you say, all we need is a Border poll to get us a united Ireland. You may be right. The good news is that we will have a Border poll – on June 8. We call it an election, because every election here is a border poll.

So on polling day, vote for union with England or union with Germany. It will be all right, provided we say we are doing it for economic and not sectarian reasons.