Archive for the 'Northern Ireland' Category


Why a united Ireland post Brexit is a real possibility

Monday, September 10th, 2018

Tory indifference towards the Union and opposition to Brexit in Northern Ireland makes a united Ireland a real possibility writes Keiran Pedley

I cannot have been the only person that was astonished at Northern Ireland secretary Karen Bradley’s recent admission that she knew nothing of the place before taking office. I am probably being naïve, but you would have thought that someone appointed to such an important role would at least possess a passing knowledge of its history and the political skill required for such a position. Some have commended Bradley’s honesty. Yet her appointment reflects an arrogance about Ireland that seems to permeate the Conservative Party in 2018. Aptly displayed by Boris Johnson’s constant bemoaning of the importance of the Irish border question in Brexit negotiations.

Perhaps it is not arrogance but indifference. Indeed, we see such indifference among the British public in general. On the question of Northern Ireland’s constitutional future, polling by Lord Ashcroft in June showed that voters accept the future of Northern Ireland is for the people there to decide and they do not mind which path they choose. This is hardly controversial. Perhaps more striking, however, is that when forced to choose themselves, 63% of Brits felt Brexit was more important than keeping the union together – a figure rising to 73% among Conservative voters. It would appear that when considering Britain’s post Brexit future, Northern Ireland barely features in the minds of many (English) voters.

Brexit and the Irish unity question

Such indifference comes at a sensitive time. Polling published by Deltapoll last week suggests that Brexit has the potential to shift views in Northern Ireland on the question of Irish unity. When presented with two scenarios, one where Britain remains in the EU and one where Britain leaves, public opinion in Northern Ireland shifts sharply in favour of a united Ireland once Britain leaves the EU. Those traditionally neutral on the constitutional question, primarily non-voters and Alliance voters, move from supporting the Union to supporting Irish reunification. Meanwhile, support for a united Ireland in the nationalist community significantly hardens post Brexit and it even grows among some unionists too.

Table 1: Attitudes to Irish unity in Northern Ireland

Source: Deltapoll. Deltapoll interviewed an online sample of 1,199 adults aged 18+ between 24-28th August 2018. Full tables here. Data in parenthesis unweighted n sizes. Data weighted to represent population of Northern Ireland by age, gender, social class, region and recalled 2017 / 2016 vote. Figures may not add to 100% due to rounding.

As we digest these numbers, a word of caution. For reasons outlined in this week’s Polling Matters podcast, care is needed interpreting these figures. Sampling a representative population in Northern Ireland is difficult. This poll significantly weights raw data that skews male and Remain and undersamples younger people and non-voters (as online polls often do). The sample surveyed is likely to be very politically engaged, which has created problems for polling in the past and raises questions about the scale of the Brexit related shift in the headline figures.

More importantly, it is fair to say that Brexit would not be the only consideration for voters in the event of a real border poll. The future of the peace process and what a united Ireland would look like in practice would play a significant role too (as would other factors). So although this poll clearly shows that Brexit shifts opinion on a united Ireland in Northern Ireland, the scale of that shift and how a border poll plays out in practice is unclear.

Nevertheless, such unpredictability offers little comfort to unionists. The data cited above is not in isolation. Research by Lucid Talk for the BBC earlier this year showed a similar trend, with more than one in four in Northern Ireland claiming that they would at least consider abandoning support for the Union in favour of a united Ireland post Brexit. 

Therefore, whilst we cannot say for certain that Brexit will lead to a united Ireland, we can at the very least say that Brexit has the potential to shift opinion on the subject in a way that is virtually unimaginable under any other circumstances. This is before we introduce the potential of a ‘hard border’ with the Republic, which increases support for a united Ireland further still in Deltapoll’s data to some 56%.

Time to take a united Ireland seriously

This all makes you wonder how seriously unionism in Northern Ireland takes its current situation and the prospect of a united Ireland. The answer to that question ought to be ‘very’ and in fairness most probably is. In many respects, the DUP’s support for Brexit seems odd considering the Conservative Party’s apparent luke-warm commitment to Northern Ireland, alongside the fact that Northern Ireland voted Remain and appears somewhat warm to the idea of a united Ireland in the EU post Brexit. Of course, the DUP does not have to take its current situation lying down. One wonders, as Brexit negotiations reach a crucial phase this autumn, if the DUP is about to start flexing its political muscles as it continues to prop up May’s increasingly fragile government. 

In any case, it is time to take the prospect of a border poll and a united Ireland seriously. It may not happen overnight, but it is a realistic prospect in the medium term in a world where the Tories increasingly prioritise Brexit over the Union and Jeremy Corbyn edges closer to Number 10. Serious thought must now be given to what this all looks like in practice in the context of a fragile peace process and no functioning Assembly in Stormont. Talk of Labour splits and a Johnson challenge to May have made Northern Ireland something of an afterthought in Westminster circles this summer. One way or another I suspect all that is about to change. The Tory direction of travel on Brexit appears to be moving away from the most accommodating for Northern Ireland’s position in the UK – and that may spell trouble ahead.

Keiran Pedley

Keiran Pedley presents the weekly PB / Polling Matters podcast (link here) and tweets about polling and politics at @keiranpedley. You can listen to the most recent episode below.


The Brexit Irish issue: Moggsy’s plan slammed by Ex-British Army officer who served there

Tuesday, August 28th, 2018

The CON MP ” fundamentally misunderstands” Ireland’s history

There are several interesting elements of The Moggster’s latest contribution to the Brexit debate. First, he has shown that he understands that the land border in Northern Ireland is a critical issue in the Brexit negotiations. Secondly, he has shown, by harking back to the Troubles with such breezy insouciance, that he fundamentally misunderstands the history of the island of Ireland. And thirdly, in telling us that no checks on the border would leave the UK “in as bad a situation as we are already in”, he has shown that he believes that the existing system of travel between the UK and Ireland is awful, which is an extraordinary comment for a British politician to make.

At present, provisions of the Common Travel Area (CTA) allow an EU citizen to fly to Dublin, cross the land border into Northern Ireland and from there cross to the UK mainland with only a small chance of any passport checks. And this worries Jacob Rees-Mogg who calls it “a great loophole in the way people can get into the UK”.

The CTA, dating back nearly a century, and only formally enshrined in 2011, facilitates freedom of movement for British and Irish citizens between the UK, Ireland, and the Crown Dependences (Guernsey, Jersey, the Isle of Man). While not legally binding, its various iterations have established a commitment to a joint approach on visa issues including towards third countries. Having withstood various challenges to its provisions, the CTA was and, following the more recent Anglo-Irish and Belfast Agreements, remains now an integral component of the peace process. Amongst other provisions, it removes the need for the type of border infrastructure in Northern Ireland, the absence of which, everyone with the exception it seems of Rees-Mogg, appreciates, is such an important element of modern life in Ireland.

So does the CTA mean there are no border controls between Ireland and the UK? Yes and no. If you travel to Ireland by air or sea as a UK citizen, you will be asked to produce identity documents when you get there. This need not be a passport, given CTA-mandated freedom of movement, but a document confirming eligibility to gain entry to the country. A passport, for example (there is in fact a choice of documents). The UK, meanwhile, carries out random checks on those arriving from Ireland in much the same way as they do for travellers coming off the Eurostar at St. Pancras.

The land border crossing, however, is a different matter. There are currently no controls on any of the many land border crossing points between the two countries Ireland and the UK. Rees-Mogg, in his speech, advocated the reintroduction of some kind of system in order, as he put it, to “keep an eye” on those using the land border. Quite what he believes this measure will be, short of a hard border yet sufficient to “have people inspected” goodness only knows. What the reintroduction of any kind of border infrastructure would have has been well-rehearsed on PB, not to say the subject of the odd thread header.

But more telling than his evident ignorance of or disregard for recent Irish history, is what his speech tells us about how he views British sovereignty. Never mind Brexit and trade deals, Jacob Rees-Mogg seems to think that the CTA, the system agreed between the UK and Ireland Governments nearly a hundred years ago which has been an integral part of the peace process since its inception, was and is a sovereignty concession too far.

A guest slot by Topping




Topping, who served with the British Army in Northern Ireland during the troubles, on Ulster and Brexit

Monday, August 6th, 2018

Kenneth Allen / Bloody Sunday mural, Bogside

Why the border issue is so important to both sides

Why, when we’re busy trying to Brexit, is everyone hung up on Northern Ireland? Why should we let this small part of the UK, with a population just larger than Newcastle’s, dictate seemingly our entire Brexit settlement? Terrorism, people say. But we don’t give in to terrorists, so why does Northern Ireland and its terrorists get such special treatment?

For most people in the UK, terrorism means the odd bomb scare, suspicious package, or a thankfully rare terrorist incident. Whereas it once defined the island of Ireland.

Let’s imagine the scene: a long walk in the countryside on a beautiful summer’s day. You gaze out over the rolling hills and, amongst the trees swaying gently in the wind and the gambolling lambs, you see an army patrol dressed in camouflage kit, helmets and face paint, carrying machine guns. Is one of them pointing their gun at you? Shortly, a helicopter emerges from the distance, drops like a stone to land, and picks up the soldiers. Then, with its door gunner on alert, it rises steeply backwards, upwards and away. You continue your walk.

Or imagine you’re off to Tesco and pass fully armed soldiers either patrolling on foot, or in armoured vehicles with machine guns sticking out of the top. Perhaps they’ll stop and ask you who you are, where you’re going – questions you’d have to answer. Or they might take an hour to search your car. And all this because you know there is a threat of violence from the local communities.

How could such scenes exist in the United Kingdom? Well they did, in Northern Ireland, and that was the Troubles. Northern Ireland was at war, both with itself, and with the British Forces sent initially to protect the Catholic community in 1969. That military operation lasted 37 years and the internal conflict which brought it into being is what people fear when they talk about a return to the bad old days: complete disruption of the civic society that you and I take for granted.

There has been progress since, of course. The Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement assured Unionists that until a majority wanted otherwise, NI would remain part of the UK, while the Nationalists for their part saw a raft of cross-border bodies established. And times have changed in other ways also. Gerry Adams is in parliament now and surely no more than a handful of hot-heads want a return to the armed struggle? Isn’t it all – wasn’t it always – gangsters and criminals?

While not as intense (3,500 people died during the Troubles), there has been continuous terrorist-related activity since the GFA was signed, including murders, shootings and weapons finds.

    To think that no dissident Republican groups are or would be willing to fight for a united Ireland today is wishful thinking; to dismiss them as gangsters or criminals is to misunderstand the history of Irish Republicanism.

Army patrols in NI would routinely visit the 208 Border Crossing Points (BCPs, more than the EU has with all points East) of which 20 were official; the remainder, located in streams, fields, forests or woods, were often used to smuggle various substances – diesel, livestock (“dizzy cows” were taken back and forth over the border to collect agricultural subsidies), or, of course, weaponry and terrorists. One of the consequences of the GFA, and the reduction in violence, is that there are no more “official” BCPs; you can cross the border anywhere you want.

And it is this last issue that represents the toughest Brexit nut to crack. All mooted options, whether Chequers, any of the backstop agreements (Joint Report or Withdrawal Agreement), or any other solution, must be seen through the prism of how it affects the border.

Again, why? There are customs posts throughout the world without accompanying violence.

A hard border between the RoI and NI would inflame the Nationalists as it would create a more tangible separation between Eire and the UK, representing a setback in their quest for a united Ireland. It would also violate the spirit of the GFA, and the many pronouncements made by Theresa May. A border in the Irish Sea, meanwhile, would inflame the Unionists as it would create a de facto separate state of the island of Ireland. It has also, of course, been outlawed by the UK Parliament.

And ludicrous as it sounds, the fact that all parties have stated they don’t want one, has not prevented the border being used as a negotiating tool in the Brexit negotiations.

During the Troubles, a hard border provided a call to arms for Republican paramilitary groups. In the absence of some kind of as yet non-existent technological solution, people fear that any kind of border infrastructure created now would have the same effect. Which would in turn bring reprisals from Unionist paramilitary groups. And pretty soon you are back to the Troubles. And that is why it all matters so much.

Topping is a regular poster on PB


Is this proof that the DUP won’t be supporting the government on the Customs Union amendment?

Tuesday, June 5th, 2018

For the next week or so political watchers are going to be looking at any clue to see if the government is going to win or lose the Brexit votes next Tuesday.

So I was struck by the likes of Michael Gove and Karen Bradley, the Northern Ireland Secretary, supporting Stella Creasy’s plans for the debate on abortion in Northern Ireland. I thought this is very risky given the precarious state of the government and forthcoming vote on the Customs Union.

Alastair Meeks gave his observations on the previous thread when he said about the tweets atop this thread which seemed very plausible ‘The government has decided that the DUP won’t support them on the customs union vote and they’re not going to bother trying a charm offensive.’

It looks like other people are drawing the same conclusion as myself and Alastair, which could see June being the end of May. Those hoping for a quite period in politics look set to be disappointed.



Just once I’d like a solution to the Northern Ireland border problem to last more than a few hours

Friday, June 1st, 2018



Has David Davis just increased the chances of a 2018 election or Corbyn becoming PM this year?

Friday, June 1st, 2018

Surely the DUP won’t agree to a solution that makes Northern Ireland very different to the rest of the UK?

The Northern Ireland problem has plagued Westminster for decades if not longer, the current iteration is solving the Northern Ireland border problem that many Brexiteers assured us all before the referendum wouldn’t be an issue.

The other complicating factor in all of this is since Theresa May lost David Cameron’s majority she’s been reliant on the DUP for the existence of her government and I don’t think the DUP will be happy with this proposal from David Davis.

The interesting thing is that the DUP appear not to have been consulted on this proposal, which violates a DUP red line. Arrogance by the government or do they know they have the numbers elsewhere to get such a proposal passed in the Commons?

Mrs May could end up paraphrasing Dolly Parton’s seminal song, Arlene, Arlene, Arlene, Arlene, I’m begging of you please don’t take my mandate. The DUP face a challenge themselves, do they bring down the Government and risk Corbyn becoming PM?



If the DUP can make Martin McGuinness Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland then we shouldn’t rule them out making Corbyn Prime Minister

Sunday, March 18th, 2018

A Brexit deal that separates the Six Counties from the rest of the UK could rupture the DUP and Tory alliance for years.

Over the last few years many observers on politics, myself included, have made assumptions that turned out be very wrong. Lib Dem incumbency would save them from a catastrophic seat loss in 2015, the electorate wouldn’t vote to make themselves poorer by Leaving the European Union, and Jeremy Corbyn’s backstory & a divided Labour party would see a Corbyn led Labour party pummelled at the 2017 general election to name but three assumption that proved hugely wrong.

But I’m starting to wonder if another assumption might turn out to be similarly wrong, that assumption being the DUP will never do anything that makes Jeremy Corbyn Prime Minister. I’m not going to repeat the many reasons why Jeremy Corbyn & John McDonnell are repulsive to the DUP, but then I remember the photograph above.

The DUP went into a power sharing agreement with the political wing of the IRA and made a former IRA Chief of Staff Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland. If they can do that then they can easily make Corbyn Prime Minister.

They may do that if Mrs May is seen to betray Northern Ireland in the Brexit negotiations and see Northern Ireland more aligned with the EU than with Great Britain.

Jacob Rees-Mogg’s takes his whip from Rome, will he take his whip with the DUP too?

As an agnostic someone’s Catholicism isn’t really an issue for me* but the Catholicism of the favourite to succeed Theresa May might be an issue for the DUP and for Jacob Rees-Mogg. Throughout the history of the DUP there’s been a lot of things that will alarm Catholics and make you wonder if they’ll ever make a Catholic the Prime Minister.

  1. Ian Paisley Senior said of the European Union it was ‘a beast ridden by the harlot Catholic church.’
  2. When Pope John Paul II addressed the European Parliament Paisley held up a red poster and shouted ‘”Pope John Paul II – Antichrist” and began shouting, ”I renounce you as the Antichrist!”’
  3. When the late Queen Mother visited the Pope in The Vatican he observed ‘Her visit to the Vatican was spiritual fornication and adultery with the Antichrist.’
  4. He also said of Catholics that ‘they breed like rabbits and multiply like vermin.’ I wonder what the DUP think of the father of six Jacob Rees-Mogg and vice versa.
  5. Paisley also said ‘he considered all Catholics to be members of the Irish Republican Army, which he branded as a collective of terrorists.’

Whilst you can argue that Ian Paisley’s time has gone no one senior in the DUP ever repudiated Paisley’s comments, additionally you regularly still see articles like ‘Anti-Catholic bigotry of many in DUP still significant.’

Back in 1994 when the Loyalist Paramilitary the UDA came up with a Doomsday plan in the event of a British withdrawal from Northern Ireland. The plan discussed taking Catholic hostages as part of creating a Protestant Homeland. The ”Doomsday” scenario recognises there would be large numbers of Catholics left within the Protestant homeland and offers three chilling options on dealing with them — expulsion, internment, or nullification.

Current DUP MP Sammy Wilson described the Doomsday plan as ”a very valuable return to reality”.  Would Jacob Rees-Mogg really want to ally himself with such a party?

With Jacob Rees-Mogg admitting he takes his whip from the Roman Catholic Church then in some DUP eyes Jeremy Corbyn as Prime Minister might seem the attractive option.


*Unless their opponent were a Pastafarian, that would make me more likely to vote for the Pastafarian.


An artistic solution to the Northern Ireland border conundrum

Wednesday, February 28th, 2018