It’s often difficult getting the brain to start turning its wheels on a Monday morning. Sluggishness rules. But occasionally, the brain can receive the equivalent of what happens the heart, when the physician shouts “Stand clear!” and applies two electric clamps to the patient’s chest. A jolt runs through the system that blows away any intention the heart may have had to go off and have a cardial kip.
My head experienced a similar 1,000-volt charge when I read an article in the Irish Times this morning. It detailed a group chat that the journalist, Simon Carswell, had with some ‘soft’ unionists in Holywood. Not all of what is quoted was high-voltage. “The DUP is threatening the union more than anything Sinn Féin can do at the moment’, one of the Gold Coasters declared. I suppose if you hadn’t spotted that over the past year and more, there’d be cause for concern as to whether you were actually alive. “If the deal [Theresa May’s] that is on the table got through, that would calm that question and people would think that we have got the best of bother worlds here and that’s OK”, another said. Again, hardly something anyone would disagree with, apart of course from the DUP. Even Gold Coaster John West, the son of Harry West, a prominent UUPer back in the day, believes Theresa’s deal would give our TGC a “partial Remain with tremendous opportunities we can exploit.”
But it’s when the talk moves to the question of a reunited Ireland that the electric current is switched on. The Gold Coasters were gathered in the house of Trevor Ringland, and it was Trevor who slammed me back in my chair. Here’s his advice on a reunited Ireland:
“Let’s focus on uniting people, and 50 years from now, let those generations take whatever decision they want around constitutional preferences but do it as friends and people who know each other.”
WHAAAAT? Can you believe the casual way ol’ Trevor lobbed in that “50 years from now”? The rest of you sit easy – I want to put my arm round Trevor and whisper a few things.
Trevor, Trevor, Trevor. Have you read a document known as the Good Friday Agreement? Especially the bit where it says the British secretary of state “shall exercise the power [to hold a referendum] if at any time it appears likely to him (sic) that a majority of those voting would express a wish that Northern Ireland should cease to be part of the United Kingdom and form part of a united Ireland”?
And have you, Trevor, had a look at the demographics of our TGC recently? There is a strong indication that in three years’ time, there will be a Catholic majority in our dear little TGC.
So what I have to ask you, Trevor, is this: What is with this 50-year malarkey? Of course we should work to bring people together, and God knows that’ll be a day’s work too. But what Trevor seems to be slipping in, in the nicest Gold Coast way, is that it might take 50 years to get everyone in our TGC to agree to a reunited Ireland. It’s also possible – more probable, actually – that Trevor is saying, in the nicest possible Gold Coast way, that there will need to be unionist agreement to a reunited Ireland before any such thing is embarked on.
Sorry, Trevor. Sorry, sorry, sorry, sorry. I know you are a nice man and I know you are generally courteous and pleasant, but you really shouldn’t try that. The fact is, the Good Friday Agreement says when a majority in our TGC seem to favour a reunited Ireland, a poll will be held and it’ll be implemented. I know there’s a tendency for some unionists to read “the people of Northern Ireland” as “the unionist people of Northern Ireland.” That might once have been the case but it ain’t the case now. A majority is a majority of people here, regardless of their skin colour, sexuality, religion, politics or size of Gold Coast residence.
So Trevor, good luck with your work of getting nationalists and unionists to be friends. I’m all for it. But what I’m not even a teensy-weensy bit for is saying that we must all be bosom buddies before a border poll, or that the unionist people must be in agreement to a reunited Ireland before a border poll is enacted.
I know it’s hard, Trevor, after nearly a hundred years of domination, but it has been agreed that union with Britain rests on one thing only: the will of the majority here. Just as elections sometimes come up with a majority for things you’d rather not have, you and unionism in general must wake up and breathe the wind of change. We’re in a different world now. In terms of locally-elected politicians, unionism is already in a minority. If you start with this pals first/poll later, you’re going to annoy an awful lot of people who put their trust in an international agreement and democracy. You believe in democracy, don’t you, Trevor?
And I haven’t even mentioned that nationalist Ireland made a massive concession when it substituted the will of the Irish people for the will of the people in its north-east corner. You may hope you can pare that down again so the unionist people in that north-east corner decide things, but I must tell you now: you might as well apply clamps to the chest of a dead-since-February cadaver and expect it to sit up and start making small-talk.