Sunday

3rd Mar 2024

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.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Get the EU news that really matters

Instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

  • 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.

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.

EU docks €32m in funding to UN Gaza agency pending audit

The European Commission will release €50m out of €82m in funds for the UN aid agency (UNRWA) operating in Gaza. The remaining €32m will come pending an audit. The commission has received no evidence to support Israeli allegations against UNRWA.

Opinion

The macabre saga of Navalny's corpse

With Alexei Navalny's funeral in Moscow on Friday, Vladimir Putin's regime haven't just insulted his mother and widow with their treatment of his corpse — they've breached international treaties and conventions.

Latest News

  1. EU docks €32m in funding to UN Gaza agency pending audit
  2. 'Outdated' rules bar MEP from entering plenary with child
  3. Commission plays down row over Rwanda minerals pact
  4. EU socialists set to anoint placeholder candidate
  5. Why are the banking lobby afraid of a digital euro?
  6. Deepfake dystopia — Russia's disinformation in Spain and Italy
  7. Putin's nuclear riposte to Macron fails to impress EU diplomats
  8. EU won't yet commit funding UN agency in Gaza amid hunger

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersJoin the Nordic Food Systems Takeover at COP28
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersHow women and men are affected differently by climate policy
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersArtist Jessie Kleemann at Nordic pavilion during UN climate summit COP28
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersCOP28: Gathering Nordic and global experts to put food and health on the agenda
  5. Friedrich Naumann FoundationPoems of Liberty – Call for Submission “Human Rights in Inhume War”: 250€ honorary fee for selected poems
  6. World BankWorld Bank report: How to create a future where the rewards of technology benefit all levels of society?

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Georgia Ministry of Foreign AffairsThis autumn Europalia arts festival is all about GEORGIA!
  2. UNOPSFostering health system resilience in fragile and conflict-affected countries
  3. European Citizen's InitiativeThe European Commission launches the ‘ImagineEU’ competition for secondary school students in the EU.
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic Region is stepping up its efforts to reduce food waste
  5. UNOPSUNOPS begins works under EU-funded project to repair schools in Ukraine
  6. Georgia Ministry of Foreign AffairsGeorgia effectively prevents sanctions evasion against Russia – confirm EU, UK, USA

Join EUobserver

EU news that matters

Join us