The recent electoral set back by the pro British Unionist parties in the Six Counties has given hope to some that Britain’s grip on the north of Ireland might be weakened and the prospects of a United Ireland strengthened. The vote follows on the heals of the Brexit vote in which the voters in the Six Counties voted 56% against leaving the European Union as opposed to the voters in England and Wales who voted in favor of Brexit. But many who support a United Ireland, including the New York chapter of the 1916 Societies, warn that this confidence that a United Ireland can be brought about through the political structures of a partitioned Ireland is misplaced.
Contrary to popular understanding, currently the question of whether Ireland is united or not is not really in the hands of Irish men and women. Britain still holds the cards in terms of whether Ireland is reunited or not. For example, there is talk of a having a so called “Border Poll” sometime in the future. That Poll, however, would be restricted to people inside the British created border of Northern Ireland, thereby excluding the majority of Irish people who live in the rest of Ireland. Any outcome in Ireland as a whole, no matter how overwhelmingly in favor of reunification it might be, would do nothing to change British rule in the Six Counties under the “Border Poll” proposal currently in place. Under the current arrangements, Britain is in charge of deciding when and whether any such Poll is held. Britain would determine the wording of any Poll. Then the results of any such “Border Poll” vote would have to be ratified by British MPs at Westminster, thereby exposing the fiction that the Irish would be determining their own future. Under current arrangements, in other words, Britain has a “Triple-Lock” in place to prevent Irish national self determination through any Border Poll limited to the Six Counties.
Electoral set backs to the Unionist parties, therefore, no matter how encouraging to Nationalists, will not be sufficient to end partition under the current system. There is, moreover, an underlying assumption in much of this that the unionist population is aging out and that a younger nationalists population will soon equal or eclipse unionists in size within Northern Ireland. This sometimes degenerates into nakedly sectarian head counting, which equates Catholic with Nationalist and Protestant with Unionist. As the Catholic population grows and the Protestant population decreases, so the thinking goes, a nationalist electoral majority within the Six Counties is ensured.
There are several problems with this line of reasoning. In the first place, such a reliance on sectarian divisions flies in the face of the entire ethos of Irish republicanism. Irish republicanism was founded in large part by enlightened Protestants such as Wolfe Tone and Thomas Russell on the belief that the people of Ireland unite together irrespective of creed. Giving legitimacy to a vote limited to a jurisdiction, Northern Ireland, that was set up by the British on the basis of nakedly sectarianism thinking is anathema to the principles of Irish Republicanism. Historically republicans have always viewed such polls limited to the Six County jurisdiction as a fraud. As a practical matter, moreover, the assumption that all or almost all Catholics in the Six Counties will vote for a united Ireland so as to offset the artificially created unionist majority may not bear out. Studies have shown that there are enough Catholic unionists out there that assuming a nationalist majority will automatically emerge from the Six Counties may not pan out as expected.
Of course this raises the question as to why you would want to confine the vote to a jurisdiction created for sectarian purposes and exclude the rest of Ireland in the first place. The One Ireland One Vote Campaign initiated by the 1916 Societies believes there is a better way forward, one that honors republican principles. One Ireland One Vote stands for the principle that all the Irish people from all 32 counties comprising all four provinces that make up Ireland should vote together on any referendum on Ireland’s future. The votes from people from Cork and Antrim, Derry and Dublin, should all count equally. The people of Ireland voted for independence in the General Election of 1918, but British state violence suppressed that democratically elected All Ireland Republic and Britain imposed partition on Ireland. Britain should no longer be allowed to control who votes in a referendum on Ireland’s future, let alone be able to veto the outcome of any all Ireland vote. The people of Ireland could then decide for themselves if they wanted to be part of the European Union or not.
Republicans have long pointed out the democratic deficit and the negative effects of centralization that have been an increasing feature of the European Union. Right now it looks as if the Irish people will face the worst of both worlds with a European Union border superimposed on the British imposed border with the prospects of severe restrictions on the free movement of people and goods from one part of Ireland to another. All of this is a consequence of the breaking up of Ireland into two separate jurisdictions against the express wishes of the Irish people. Never let it be said, therefore, that the question of Irish sovereignty is just about "symbols and flag" as some apologists for partition often maintain. Partition has real word consequences on the lives of the people of Ireland. Certainly if the people of Britain have the right to determine that it is no longer in their interest to be part of the European Union, then the people of Ireland have the right to determine that a British imposed partition of their country does not serve the interests of the majority of the people of Ireland.
1916 Societies-New York
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For more information please contact the New York Chapter of the 1916 Societies at (212) 726-2112
The 1916 Societies are an Irish separatist movement founded in 2009 and growing throughout Ireland.
Constitutional authority resides with the Irish people alone
The British Government Veto on Irish Unity is without legitimacy
Dáil Éireann should be restored as the National Parliament of All Ireland
We contend the will of the people is for change in this country – for a National Republic in line with our democratic rights. We believe our flagship ‘One Ireland One Vote’ initiative – our demand for a single-constituency All-Ireland Referendum on Irish Unity – can realize that end.
Britain’s partition of Ireland and ongoing presence in the North is based on conquest, without mandate and usurps the will of the people. All external interference in the democratic process violates Irish sovereignty and should be rejected.
‘One Ireland Vote’ is a means to resolve the constitutional conflict in Ireland. It seeks to end partition, establish a Government of National Unity and rebuild the Sovereign All-Ireland Republic.