When is a majority not good enough?

So  – were you in favour of the Good Friday Agreement? And if you were, how did you feel about Articles 2 and 3 in the Irish Constitution being radically amended, so that they no longer laid claim to all of the island of Ireland, but settled for a desire for peaceful political reunification of Ireland?

I’m going to guess, judging by the majority votes north and south, that Irish people felt the transformation of Articles 2 and 3 was worth it. Better to move from aggressive claims to democratic peaceful pursuit of national unity.

And yes, Viriginia, that peaceful pursuit would reach its end-point at a time when the majority of people north and south voted for reunification. Of late we’ve been hearing a number of voices raised for holding that double referendum  – aka a border poll. Not this minute, of course: it’s essential that any border poll is taken by an informed electorate, unlike what happened with Brexit. There needs to be time – say, five years – for those favouring reunification to lay out in considerable detail what kind of new Ireland they’re talking about, and how unionism fits into that new Ireland, before people go into their voting booths. And who gives the green light for the holding of a border poll? The British Secretary of State.

Close your mind, if you can, to that last daft stipulation. It’ s in the GFA, it probably shouldn’t have been in the GFA but it is, so accept it we must. Just as we must accept whatever the majority of people vote for in any border poll.

But hold! Is a majority of people favouring Irish reunification enough? Well, there is in some quarters a fear that there may be a loyalist backlash if unionism loses the border poll. Everything possible should and I’m sure will be done to see to it that a small, violent minority is not allowed to frustrate the will of the Irish people.

Most of us can cope with the loyalist backlash fear. But how would you feel if you were told that a majority was not enough, there must be a majority of unionists in favour of Irish reunification, otherwise it’d be pointless winning a border poll, since you’d have an unwilling minority trapped in a state not sympathetic to them?

That’s a view that some of unionism might hold. What, though, if a considerable number of nationalists were to hold the same view, that a majority of votes for a reunited Ireland is not enough, there must be two-thirds in favour, or a way whereby unionists enter willingly into reunification? 

If you think like me, you’d see that as a huge con-trick.  The GFA was assented to and brought peace in 1998, with republicans decommissioning their weapons and seeking their goal of a united Ireland through peaceful political means.  If we’re now saying that a majority in favour is not enough, it must be a majority of unionists, then the terms of the GFA have just been torn up. More than that: the notion of democracy itself has been pushed aside.

“But surely” you say, “nationalists wouldn’t want to pervert the GFA?  Who are these people?” In a word, the SDLP and Fine Gael (OK, that’s three words). They both are on the record as urging there be no border poll until a majority of unionists accept the argument for reunification. In one smooth move, they have changed an international treaty and have interpreted a majority as meaning a majority of northern unionism.

People have been rightly appalled by the attempt of Trump and his followers to up-end the result of the US presidential election. But at least Trump had the good grace to wait until the election was held. The SDLP and Fine Gael are intent on up-ending democracy before any election is held.

If you have tears, prepare to shed them now.  

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