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Brexit: The same recklessness that has tipped us out of the EU could cause Northern Ireland's departure from UK

By Malachi O'Doherty

Published 25/06/2016

Former Prime Minister’s Tony Blair (left) and John Major, who supported the Remain campaign ,at the Ulster University in Londonderry earlier this month
Former Prime Minister’s Tony Blair (left) and John Major, who supported the Remain campaign ,at the Ulster University in Londonderry earlier this month

Yesterday, unionists were on several programmes blithely batting off the "silly" notion that the union with Britain was in danger. Sammy Wilson and Ian Paisley and Arlene Foster were misreading the problem and therefore laughing off the danger without actually having identified it.

For someone with a memory that stretches back to the parade protests of the 1990s, it was a bit ironic to see people who once thought the union was in jeopardy if Orangemen didn't get down the Garvaghy Road failing to recognise a real threat when it reared its head.

They were happy to dismiss the predictable Sinn Fein call for a border poll. Ian Paisley said that idea was now "in the bin".

Arlene had also mocked John Major and Tony Blair for suggesting that a Brexit vote would unhinge the peace process.

"Disgusting," she said, without thinking through how that might actually happen.

Well, here's how.

The cornerstone of the union between Northern Ireland and Great Britain is the assent of the pragmatic unionists, many of them nominally nationalist, who are content to live in the UK so long as their rights are respected, they are not under threat, they have a secure sense of identity and the economy is thriving.

People like me have no emotional or sentimental attachment to Britain. We regard the Queen, for instance, as an something f an oddity. Fine, live and let live.

But in the event that people who think like me are to face the prospect of living in a smaller UK - without Scotland - one which is perpetually Tory-led and without the protections that come from Europe - and the underpinning of a common identity with the Irish that also comes from Europe - then we will look around for the alternatives.

There were three sets of relationships secured in the Good Friday Agreement - relations between the two communities, between North and South and between Ireland and Britain. All three of them have been unsettled by the Brexit vote.

Throughout the Troubles, I never found unionism as incomprehensible as I do now.

The vote for Brexit fell along sectarian lines. The unionists - who should have had more sense - wanted it. The nationalists didn't. And nationalists who waived their aspiration for a united Ireland, at least in part to spare their unionist neighbours, now find that unionists had no such compunction about tipping them into an appalling polity.

The unionist nightmare of a united Ireland seems no greater hurt to inflict on them than that suffered by nationalists in the North who did not want to leave the European Union.

There will be no border poll in the coming weeks, and nor should there be. But we now face the very real prospect of Scotland leaving the UK.

"It will never happen," says Ian Paisley. Maybe it won't, but I'm not taking his word for it.

It is also possible that there will be a change of mind among those in our community, including nominal nationalists, who last week or even today would vote against Irish unity.

I foresee that interest in a united Ireland increasing now.

That includes more than those who are now rushing to get Irish passports.

We may be faced with the prospect of being stranded in an offshore appendage of a Little Britain, after the departure of Scotland.

In that event, a united Ireland or a union with Scotland might start to be much more attractive.

And if we are in danger of reaching that point down the road - as we are - then we should prepare now by analysing our options, so that we are not tipped out of the UK as recklessly and blindly as we have just been tipped out of the European Union.

Belfast Telegraph

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