In the wake of Brexit, with the reality of a trade border (whether physical or virtual) in the Irish Sea, and increasing constitutional instability within the UK due to increasing demands and support for Scottish independence, the issue of a border poll in Northern Ireland is more and more becoming a live political issue. There is a changed political situation and therefore everybody, across the entire political spectrum, share a responsibility to discuss and debate our future. We recognise there are a growing number of academics and journalists who have begun to discuss the issue in a serious fashion.
A border poll deals, in a most fundamental way, with the constitutional position of Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland, and the United Kingdom. It is not a process that should be rushed given the potential social and political conflicts that remain latent in Northern Ireland.
The Workers’ Party do not consider a border poll at this juncture to be a useful way of furthering the goal of a unitary socialist republic. If such a poll happens then it must be the result of a process of engagement, of debate and discussion involving all sectors of political, cultural, social and civic society in Northern Ireland.
As the first step in this process of debating the future of Northern Ireland within a changing EU and UK political framework the Workers’ Party is calling for the convening of a Civic Forum.
In looking at the future of Northern Ireland there are various factors within the debate. First, we must look beyond the traditional narrow labels of nationalist or unionist. There is a large constituency which does not identify with either of those labels. Our views, as a socialist party, and as republicans, totally transcend the narrow and blinkered view of either a chauvinist nationalist or unionist tinged-capitalism.
Economics is a key factor in people’s lives. However, economics, while playing a large part in people’s decision, will not necessarily be the deciding factor. Central to the issue are the long and deep seated political and cultural issues which unionists feel tie them to Britain and equally nationalists feel tie them to Ireland. The terms of the Good Friday Agreement state that once the Secretary of State believes that a majority is in favour of a united Ireland a border poll will take place. There has been a long pattern of demographic change in Northern Ireland which, allied to the changes that Brexit has wrought, may increase the possibility for this to happen sooner rather than later.
There is a need for open and honest debate on all the issues raised, questions must be assessed and debated with both unionists and nationalists and the growing community that identifies as neither, independent evaluators, trade unions and academic contributions.
It is in consideration of this complex reality that the Workers’ Party is calling for the setup of a new Civic Forum. The Forum should include representatives from both unionist and nationalist backgrounds as well as those from other backgrounds. Up to now very few Unionists have taken part in any meaningful discussion. It is vital that Unionists are encouraged to come to the table and openly debate and discuss how they view the future of the island particularly over the next 10 to 20 years. The civic forum should ensure the inclusion of smaller parties, community groups, churches, voluntary organisations, trade unions, academics etc. The Civic Forum should be a joint venture between both jurisdictions to ensure that the forum is as inclusive as possible.
We have recently witnessed how the use of the NI Protocol by the EU has ignited sectarian divisions and has been used as a platform to further divide the working class. We hope that all parties, particularly those on the nationalist and unionist sides of this debate, are conscious of the potential for the issue to entrench sectarian divisions and carefully consider their contributions to the debate to minimise the possibility of reigniting a conflict that has not been so much solved as frozen.
The Workers’ Party intend to write to various Parties and organisations in the coming days requesting that they support and engage fully with our call for a Civic Forum.