Who would have believed it? Sinn Féin holds a conference in Dublin on Saturday and calls for a border poll in the next term of the Assembly and Oireachtas, and by Tuesday the DUP are supporting it!!!
Of course Arlene Foster backs the idea because she’s convinced that it will deliver the answer she wants. According to the DUP Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Investment its ‘fantasy politics’. Peter Robinson thought I was ‘on medication’ when I did an interview last week arguing for such a poll.
The DUP believe that there couldn’t be a worse time for republicans to call for a border poll. Arlene told Mitchel McLaughlin on the Nolan show, “if you look at all of the polling, indeed the census that has recently been carried out, there is nowhere near a united Ireland coming in the future”.
That’s not quite accurate and I’ll come back to that shortly. However one of the major problems facing the unionists is that their economic argument in support of the union is so full of holes!
So, let’s look at some of the maths; although before we begin a health warning! These are figures produced by the British system which refuses to release all of the financial figures involved.
According to the British Treasury the north costs the British government £23.2 billion a year. Figures from the Department of Finance and Personnel show that the north produces £12.7 billion.
The gap therefore between the British Treasury figure of £23.2 billion and the DFP figure of £12.7 billion is £10.5 billion.
That is the figure the unionists and the British claim is the subvention that is needed to keep the north functioning.
The problem is that if you look closely you discover that over half of that alleged subvention - £5.7 billion - never comes to the north. It is spent by the British government on the British military and wars in Afghanistan; British Debt; and the British Civil list, War Pensions, Royal Travel and palaces, Military Museums and much more. They claim they do it on behalf of the north but in reality the Executive nor citizens here see a penny of it.
That means that on the figures provided by the British themselves the subvention is £4.8 billion. But remember they refuse to provide figures for corporation tax or VAT paid by British and international companies trading here but whose headquarters are in Britain. So, that £4.8 billion is considerably less.
Arlene in her contribution to the Nolan Show exposed her lack of knowledge on this when she denied that the £10 billion British subvention does not include the billions spent of wars and the military and the civil list and so on. She said that this money “has absolutely nothing to do with the subvention that we receive from Westminster.”
Sorry Arlene you are wrong. These figures are direct from the British Treasury.
And now back to the census. For too long there has been a presumption that Protestants are unionist and Catholics are nationalist or republican. It was never that simple. Now, for the first time, statisticians have been able to ask a question about identity. The results are very interesting.
Less than half the population (48%) designated themselves as British and northern Irish or Irish. 40% stated that they had a British only identity.
A quarter (25%) stated that they had an Irish only identity and just over a fifth (21%) had a Northern Irish only identity. That’s 46% with some form of Irish only identity.
Statisticians and politicians will argue over the significance of this. But what is certain is that the north is in transition. It is no longer an orange state.
So where do we go from here? Sinn Féin is an Irish republican party. It isn’t just that we want Irish unity – however important that is – we also want a different kind of Ireland – a genuine Republic based on citizens rights which is inclusive and based on equality.
But this republic has to be genuinely inclusive of those who define themselves as unionist and British. That means we have to have to listen to what unionists have to say. Sinn Féin also needs to spell out in an explicit and unambiguous fashion the core values that will shape our vision of that Republic. These must protect all citizens, including rigorously and unequivocally seeking to protect all identities and traditions.
The Good Friday Agreement is quite explicit on this. It sets out: “principles of full respect for, and equality of, civil, political, social and cultural rights, of freedom from discrimination for all citizens, and of parity of esteem and of just and equal treatment for the identity, ethos, and aspirations of both communities …”
The Agreement also guarantees in the event of a united Ireland that the right of those who define themselves as British will not be affected.
At the end of Sinn Féin’s conference in Dublin on Saturday I said that it is time for a debate; it’s time for a date; it’s time for a border poll.
Well the debate has well and truly begun. One enterprising media outlet, Journal.ie, organised a poll on Saturday on whether or not there should be a border poll. 51% said Yes, 32% said no and 15% didn’t know. But they all thought about it before voting and the comments were flying thick and fast.
The debate must continue. Out of this an informed citizenry will ultimately determine the future shape of this island. That’s democracy. So, let the people decide; let’s have that border poll.