The Unit is holding a public event on Wednesday 9 June to launch the final report of its Working Group on Irish Unification Referendums, a technical study of the process by which the question of a united Ireland should be discussed and decided. Alan Whysall, Honorary Senior Research Associate at the Unit and a member of the group, considers why readers of this blog based in Great Britain should be interested in the group’s work.
As recent polling shows, there is no strongly felt wish in the rest of the UK that Northern Ireland should remain within it.
But the implications of unity should be a concern. Referendums on it may in some circumstances not be far from being triggered.
In fact, as is brought out by the report, the journey to unity is by no means inevitable; but if it is embarked on, it is liable to be long and difficult. It may end in a peaceful accommodation – or, potentially, in renewed conflict and division.
The ramifications of that would inevitably entangle Great Britain.
And much – including whether opinion moves further in favour of unity at all – depends on handling by governments. The British and Irish governments have traditionally been the motor of advance and the coordinators of rescue missions in Northern Ireland politics.
But this requires trust in the governments, and partnership between them. The Irish government is always mistrusted by many unionists. Polling suggests that the present British government is mistrusted by almost every shade of political opinion in Northern Ireland. And relations between the two governments are probably at their worst for 30 years.
Brexit, and the way it has been pursued, have heightened tensions and polarised political discourse. And it has brought unity back onto the political agenda: five years ago, few thought that it was feasible in this generation, or probably the next.Continue reading