Wednesday

23rd Aug 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 and get 40% off for an annual subscription. Sale ends soon.

  1. €90 per year. Use discount code EUOBS40%
  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 prepares to stop Catalan vote

Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy has said he is ready call an extraordinary cabinet meeting if Catalonia's authorities table a bill to organise the vote on 1 October.

News in Brief

  1. US will ask Nato allies to send more troops into Afghanistan
  2. Greece to be absent at event on Communism and Nazism
  3. Czechs want observer status in Eurogroup meetings
  4. Putin sends EU-blacklisted ambassador to US
  5. Austria has begun checks at Italian border
  6. Slovenian PM: Brexit talks will take longer than expected
  7. Merkel backs diesel while report warns of economic harm
  8. UK to publish new Brexit papers this week

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Jewish CongressEuropean Governments Must Take Stronger Action Against Terrorism
  2. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceDoes Genetics Explain Why So Few of Us Have an Ideal Cardiovascular Health?
  3. EU2017EEFuture-Themed Digital Painting Competition Welcomes Artists - Deadline 31 Aug
  4. ACCABusinesses Must Grip Ethics and Trust in the Digital Age
  5. European Jewish CongressEJC Welcomes European Court of Justice's Decision to Keep Hamas on Terror List
  6. UNICEFReport: Children on the Move From Africa Do Not First Aim to Go to Europe
  7. Centre Maurits CoppietersWe Need Democratic and Transparent Free Trade Agreements Says MEP Jordi Solé
  8. Counter BalanceOut for Summer, Ep. 2: EIB Promoting Development in Egypt - At What Cost?
  9. EU2017EELocal Leaders Push for Local and Regional Targets to Address Climate Change
  10. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceMore Women Than Men Have Died From Heart Disease in Past 30 Years
  11. European Jewish CongressJean-Marie Le Pen Faces Trial for Oven Comments About Jewish Singer
  12. ACCAAnnounces Belt & Road Research at Shanghai Conference