Messrs Kyle and Woodward set the cat among the pigeons, or indeed the chickens this week, when they individually stated in one way or another that a border poll was closer than many might think. Peter Kyle, the Labour Party Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, to give him his full title, stated he would be happy to set out the criteria for triggering a border poll with Shaun Woodward, former Labour secretary of State for the North claiming the criteria for a border poll or a unity poll may already be met.
We haven’t heard anything of this calibre from a British politician, certainly not in my lifetime nor I’d bet in our older generation’s lifetimes either. We haven’t heard it because up until now, no matter what anyone may claim on reasoning, Unionism held sway as the largest main political bloc in Stormont. There was also a certain amount of ambiguity within the Good Friday Agreement when it came to criteria on a border poll, something Unionism neglected to make Nationalists and Republicans aware of. Indeed, the UUP’s former leader, Steve Aiken spoke it aloud when he said David Trimble deliberately inserted huge ambiguity into the border poll clause to ensure a lack of transparency on criteria and to frustrate the democratic will of the people of Ireland from ever being expressed freely and open manner.
Since the census results have been publicised and Kyle and Woodward took it upon themselves to give Northern Irish Unionism a political heart attack, words and terms such as shared society, welcoming and progressive have suddenly entered the Unionist vocabulary. Not two days before the census results were released we were being told ‘this is our country’ and ‘Ulster is British’. It’s nice of Unionism to let us live in our own shared country, isn’t it? Where our nationality and rights are respected. Make no mistake, Unionism is spooked and for some at least, the penny has finally dropped that Catholics are a larger denomination than Protestants and while some have attempted to play that down, it cannot be overemphasised how big a deal this actually is when one looks into the past and what Catholics, as a minority in a gerrymandered state were forced to deal with at the hands of a Protestant Unionist government. Not to mention the fact that the six Counties were engineered to have a constant Protestant majority.
With this in mind, Unionists can no longer feign ignorance on the Irish unity issue or the impending doom of the United Kingdom. From experience, one of the first questions or subjects in any debate or discussion centred around a united Ireland has been, how can we make Unionists feel comfortable and at home in a united Ireland? There are many views and answers to this very important question but the one viewpoint missing from the poole of answers is that of Unionism and Loyalism, and that is because instead of engaging in real discussion, Unionists choose to do what they have always done when it comes to a subject they don’t want to deal with…they ignore it until it goes away. The problem being, this issue ain’t going away because there is a head of steam behind it strong enough that it is making America sit up and take notice. It’s bigger than Unionism, it’s bigger than Nationalism… and it’s bigger than the Alliance Party.
Many will have noticed the Alliance Party, the party of the centre which boasts of having not only Irish Nationalists and Unionists but those of no political persuasion whatsoever within its ranks, refused an invitation to the ‘Ireland’s Future’ debate in the 3 Arena in Dublin on Saturday, 1st of October. They refused it on the grounds that it was a rally promoting a united Ireland, something which they claim not to be about, even though they boast an element of Irish Nationalists within their membership. Alliance needs to grow up, Irish unity and indeed the subject of a border poll is of huge importance to this island both North and South, and indeed while Unionists refuse to engage with the subject, they know it’s a massive subject which they need to start taking an interest in.
What was striking about Alliance’s response to the invitation to take part in the ‘Ireland’s Future’ event was that only a few days ago, when asked by Mark Carruthers what would happen if Alliance had to nail their flag to the pole on a united Ireland what their response would be, Kelly Armstrong MLA of Alliance stated – “The conversations that you’re talking about need to be opened up to more than just themselves”. ‘Themselves’ obviously referring to Sinn Fein and Nationalism. Yet when invited to voice the opinions of the middle ground, of the ‘none of the above’, of the people they claim to represent, in an open and transparent platform, Alliance refused to voice those opinions and indeed showed utter contempt for those Irish Nationalists within their ranks.
Stephen Farry then came out swinging – “It is a mistake for anyone to try to force Unionist or Nationalist labels onto us. That is not what we are about.” Really Stephen? That’s some ‘woke’ stuff there, because your own party claimed hours earlier it comprises of Unionists and Irish Nationalists, a literal description of labels I’m sure you’ll agree. Alliance seem to have miscalculated the response and feeling from within their own party on this issue, going by some of the responses to the above quote. None showed it more than an Alliance supporter who said, and I quote – “No-one is forcing labels on you Stephen, I’m actually really disappointed as an Alliance member that no-one from the Alliance Party NI is engaging in this discussion. Given the financial crisis in England, it is even more imperative that our voice is part of the discussion in Dublin on Saturday.”
In fact, Nationalists and Republicans and indeed those falling into neither category have been voicing their opinions, some going so far as to say they feel offended and insulted that a party of the centre which funded armed forces days to the tune of thousands of pounds, which included ‘gun zoos’ for children to take hold of weapons of war and who also thanked the RUC for their ‘service’ would refuse to simply take part in a discussion on what any united Ireland would look like. Many people of Nationalist persuasion have also voiced their disapproval of the refusal of Alliance to attend the debate and have moved so far as to claim their transfer votes will not go to Alliance again with some Alliance voters straight up claiming to refuse Alliance first preference votes. A profound thought is that Naomi Long had no problem belting out ‘God Save The Queen’ but can’t send a representative to Dublin to take part in a discussion which clearly means a lot of Nationalists, a number of which she claims as party members or supporters.
Alliance is playing a game of numbers. If they do have Irish Nationalists within their numbers, they cannot declare against a united Ireland and because they have Unionists within their numbers, they wouldn’t dare to claim to vote in support of a united Ireland. Which is why they are still sitting on the proverbial fence, unable to get down on either side for fear of stalling the upward trend.
A word of warning to Alliance, however. At some point, all that sitting on the fence will cause your backside to get sore. Be careful which side of the fence you land on!
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