Seamus Mallon’s proposals would make Irish unity a practical impossibility

Posted By: May 29, 2019


Brian Feeney. Irish News. Belfast. Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Seamus Mallon’s proposals in his memoirs to undo fundamental aspects of the Good Friday Agreement have received a lot of attention from predictable sympathetic quarters in the BBC and RTÉ and some newspapers. Unfortunately, it’s the wrong kind of attention.

His suggestions should have been met with ridicule because no thought whatsoever has been given to the mechanics of what he proposes to deal with a profoundly serious matter affecting the lives of everyone on this island.

What he is advocating – ‘parallel consent’ – is a piece of nonsense. That’s not just because he’s asking that Irish unity must wait until there’s a nebulous ’40 to 50 percent support in the unionist community’. It’s because he clearly doesn’t understand how a referendum works. Individuals vote, not parties. So how can you tell what percentage of unionists or nationalists voted in a particular way? Do you have to register as a unionist or nationalist? What about people who refuse? Does their vote not count like in the assembly? Do you have an indelible orange or green transfer dyed onto your wrist? Wear football tops? What about nationalists who falsely claim to be unionists and then vote yes to Irish unity? All nonsense; voting is supposed to be secret.

It’s a ridiculous proposal which should have been laughed out of court.

What about parties being taken to represent unionist consent? How would that work? Does Mallon really want to transform the north into a gigantic petition of concern? It wouldn’t be a plebiscite for a start. Again, what about parties which refused to be designated? You couldn’t prevent them from standing, so thousands of voters wouldn’t have their votes counted. How do you know people voting for unionist or nationalist parties are really unionists or nationalists or ringers falsely claiming to vote yes?

There are many other dimensions to Mallon’s absurd and ridiculous suggestions apart from the obvious one that none of them makes sense in a referendum of any description. First, he proposes altering the Good Friday Agreement, a solemn international treaty, which the Irish government has successfully persuaded the EU to protect ‘in all of its parts’ and which it has done in face of British attempts to undermine it. After the Sturm und Drang of the last three years is the Irish government now to say, well thanks, but actually, some of the fundamental parts don’t really matter all? It wouldn’t be long before the British government decided to lop off some other bits.

Remember last year when Arlene Foster had the temerity to suggest that the Good Friday Agreement is ‘not sacrosanct’ and could be modified to accommodate a Brexit deal? She was jumped on from on high. Yet Mallon’s even more damaging and daft suggestions have been given serious consideration by some in the media – though at least not publicly by the Irish government.

Mallon has also ignored another dimension; the rights of increasing numbers of unionists who may prefer Irish unity in the EU to living in a backward, illiberal, benighted Brexit UK. They are to be told under Mallon’s plan that they have to remain stuck in the past with the rest of us until other unionists catch up with them in some impossible to measure qualified majority. Under Mallon’s plans, antediluvian unionist votes count more than anyone else’s vote and, just to add insult to injury, they don’t have to make any concessions or promises to qualify for this premium.

In summary, Mallon’s ill-thought-out proposals are carefully designed to make Irish unity a practical impossibility. They also absolve the Irish government of any responsibility to make good the new Article 3.1 of Bunreacht na hÉireann ‘to unite all the people who share the territory of the island of Ireland’. So far no Irish government since 1998 has made any proposal of any kind as to how that aspiration might be advanced. What we do know is that the tommy rot in Mallon’s book retards it.

Mallon complains in his book somewhat hurtfully, that when he objected to Hume’s talks with Sinn Féin and the damage they could do to the SDLP, Hume replied contemptuously: ‘I don’t give two balls of roasted snow for what you think.’ Now we know why.