In a surprise development Democratic Unionist Minister Arlene Foster has suggested that her party may actually support Sinn Fein’s call for a vote on a United Ireland – the ‘border poll’.
Sinn Fein have recently begun a campaign to have a border poll held in Northern Ireland to decide if a majority still want to stay within the United Kingdom. The Republican party have been boosted by recent census statistics that have revealed a big reduction in the overall size of the majority of Protestants in Ulster. The party has repeatedly said that it wants a referendum held in advance of the 1916 Easter Rising centenary.
The DUP Economy Minister has stated that she held talks with First Minister Peter Robinson about calling the bluff of Sinn Fein and that any such referendum would produce an overwhelming mandate for remaining within the UK. She claims that Sinn Fein are engaged in ‘fantasy politics’.
This is certainly a very high stakes game. If a referendum were to be held it would doubtless be mirrored by an increase in violence, intimidation and tension within Ulster and would likely empower the more radical extremes of both Protestant and Catholic traditions.
by Michael Green
The ‘Good Friday Agreement’ that saw an end to the armed conflict in Northern Ireland has a number of provisions including the possibility of a vote on the removal of the border with the Republic and thus a United Ireland. It has always been the express political aim of Sinn Fein to achieve a United Ireland and the party has clearly taken heart from recent census results of the population in the six Counties.
The census revealed that the once significant gap between the Protestant majority and Catholic minority has diminished significantly. The Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency published the results of the 2011 census showing that 45% of the population are now Catholic while 48% are Protestant. This compares to the 2001 census when the ratio was 53% Protestant to 44% Catholic – a very significant closing of the gap.
When asked to identify themselves as British, Northern Irish or Irish 48% identified as British with 29% identifying as Northern Irish and 28% as Irish. Respondents were allowed to choose a number of identities in the census. 40% identified as ‘British only’, 25% as ‘Irish only’ with 21% ‘Northern Irish only’.
Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams has ramped up the pressure by calling for a referendum during the lifetime of the current Northern Assembly (parliament). In an attempt to sway moderates he has also suggested that there would be economic benefits on both sides of the border should a United Ireland come into effect after a ‘border poll’. Of course any such moves are going to be fiercely resisted by Ulster Unionists who claim Ulster as their own.
Edited by Michael Green
The demonstrations by Ulster Unionists over the Union Jack Flag controversy have continued with no end in sight.
The protests were sparked by the recent decision by Belfast City Council to restrict the number of days that the British Union Jack flag would be flown above Belfast City Hall from 365 days to 17. Increasingly violent protests have been taking place with Belfast business owners despairing at the loss of revenue and warning of possible job losses.
Unionist protesters are even planning to demonstrate outside the Irish parliament building (Dail Eireann) in an event that is certain to be met with opposition by Dublin nationalists.
There is a very real concern that the protests in Ulster have been hi-jacked by paramilitary factions seeking to promote their own agenda. A confrontation with similar Dublin-based factions would result in a big problem for local law enforcement.
The decision by Belfast City Council to restrict the number of days that the British Union Jack flag can be flown above Belfast City Hall from 365 days to 17 has been greeted with an escalating amount of violent protest in Belfast and beyond.
At least 27 police officers have so far been injured in the violence that has followed several protests by loyalists who oppose the decision. Bricks and petrol bombs have been thrown at security forces, cars burned and death threats made to Councillors.
Despite appeals by the North’s First Minister Peter Robinson,himself a loyalist, for the violence to cease, it has been reported that loyalist paramilitary influence may be driving the protests.
The violence has coincided with the visit by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who was warmly greeted by both Peter Robinson and his Sinn Fein counterpart Martin McGuinness. The former first-lady and her husband Bill Clinton were pivotal figures in the fledgling peace process and became the first US President and first-lady to visit the province in 1995.