Thursday

19th Oct 2017

Irish unification on voters' minds

  • Belfast. Voters appeared "turned off", Elliot said (Photo: William Murphy)

The question of whether to hold a post-Brexit referendum on a united Ireland is dominating Thursday's (2 March) elections in Northern Ireland.

Following the success of the Good Friday Peace Agreement in 1998, such an issue was thought unlikely to emerge for several generations - if at all.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

  • Sectarian murals from 1980s (Photo: Miss Copenhagen)

But the economic and political ramifications of Britain’s decision to leave the EU has reopened the old debate.

Northern Ireland, a part of the UK which voted to remain in the EU last year, is heavily dependent on EU funding for economic and peace-related projects.

Some 87 percent of Northern Irish farmers’ income comes from the EU’s agricultural policy.

Farmers and other exporters also risk the loss of EU markets if Britain crashes out of Europe in an ugly way.

Last week, Irish leader Enda Kenny raised the issue at a press conference with European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker.

Kenny called for any Brexit deal to include a provision that allowed Northern Ireland to unify with the Irish republic "whenever that might occur".

He said unification would make Northern Ireland part of the EU once more.

That kind of deal would be heavily opposed by Northern Ireland’s unionists, however.

The ruling Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) campaigned to leave the EU last year and see Brexit as a promise of lasting British sovereignty.

Kenny “should have stayed out of it”, Tom Elliot, a former leader of the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP), a DUP ally, told EUobserver.

Unionists “won’t contemplate any sentence about Northern Ireland” returning to the EU or Ireland, he said.

Northern Ireland’s system provides for the nationalist and unionist communities to share power by each holding the posts of first minister or deputy first minister.

Since January 2016, DUP's Arlene Foster was first minister, with Martin McGuinness, from the republican Sinn Fein party, as deputy.

There was political turbulence in the run-up to the vote on other issues as well.

The DUP lost face in a heating fiasco in which a flawed renewable energy project cost the taxpayer hundreds of millions of pounds.

A DUP decision to pull £50,000 (€58,500) of funding for Irish language teaching also hit a raw nerve in a sensitive area..

The DUP’s leader, Foster, has also been accused of scare tactics in warning of the “threat” of Sinn Fein becoming the largest party and initiating a vote on Northern Ireland’s status.

The UUP’s Elliot told EUobserver that voters appeared to be “turned off” by the elections when he canvassed from door to door.

But the unionist party is expected to remain the largest one in parliament, even if its support goes down.

Turning to the upcoming Brexit talks, Sinn Fein MEP Matt Carthy called for EU negotiators, such as French politician Michel Barnier, to “bat” for the people of Northern Ireland.

He told EUobserver that under Northern Ireland’s peace accords everybody had the right to claim Irish citizenship if they wanted.

“Everyone in the north is effectively an EU citizen, but they’re being dragged out of the EU against their wishes”, he said.

He said that if Northern Ireland did not get a “special status” in the Brexit deal then there would be a “demand for an Irish unity poll”.

The Sinn Fein politician said the EU “understood” what might happen if Brexit led to the reimposition of a hard border between Ireland and Norther Ireland.

According to Aidan Regan, a scholar of international relations at Dublin City University, said a border policed by British officers would serve as “a reminder” of Irish separation.

He told EUobserver that sectarian identities in the region were “still as strong as they were in the 1980s” at the height of The Troubles.

May struggles to contain Brexit angst

Government under fire from Scotland and from opposition MPs for "chaotic" Brexit preparations, despite May's new committee and pledge on parliament debates.

Column / Brexit Briefing

End of Brexit phoney war? Wait and see

There is a strong chance that the House of Lords will send Theresa May’s Article 50 bill back with some unwelcome extras, such as Northern Ireland's open border and EU citizens rights.

Spain points at elections as exit to Catalan crisis

Spanish political leaders called on Catalan separatists to organise regional elections as a way to avoid emergency measures due to be taken on Thursday. That's "not on the table", a Catalan official replied.

News in Brief

  1. Austrian PM calls Brexit talks speed 'big disappointment'
  2. PM Muscat: journalist murder 'left a mark' on Malta
  3. Belgian PM: No crisis with Spain over Catalan remarks
  4. Ireland PM: Further Brexit concessions needed from UK
  5. Merkel: rule of law in Turkey going 'in wrong direction'
  6. Finnish PM: EU 'frustrated' with slow Brexit talks
  7. Dutch PM: Catalan crisis is not a European issue
  8. May 'urgently' wants to see a deal on citizens' rights

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Jewish CongressEJC Applauds the Bulgarian Government for Adopting the Working Definition of Antisemitism
  2. EU2017EENorth Korea Leaves Europe No Choice, Says Estonian Foreign Minister Sven Mikser
  3. Mission of China to the EUZhang Ming Appointed New Ambassador of the Mission of China to the EU
  4. International Partnership for Human RightsEU Should Seek Concrete Commitments From Azerbaijan at Human Rights Dialogue
  5. European Jewish CongressEJC Calls for New Austrian Government to Exclude Extremist Freedom Party
  6. CES - Silicones EuropeIn Healthcare, Silicones Are the Frontrunner. And That's a Good Thing!
  7. EU2017EEEuropean Space Week 2017 in Tallinn from November 3-9. Register Now!
  8. European Entrepreneurs CEA-PMEMobiliseSME Exchange Programme Open Doors for 400 Companies Across Europe
  9. CECEE-Privacy Regulation – Hands off M2M Communication!
  10. ILGA-EuropeHealth4LGBTI: Reducing Health Inequalities Experienced by LGBTI People
  11. EU2017EEEHealth: A Tool for More Equal Health
  12. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Tourism a Key Driver for Job Creation and Enhanced Competitiveness