Procrastination doesn’t resolve anything — and neither does putting a problem in the “too difficult” drawer”. Which brings me to Irish nationalist and republican demands for a border poll.
The current Taoiseach, Micheal Martin, has set out his vision for a “shared island” and has set up a dedicated government unit to work towards that end. Meanwhile, one of his TDs has called for Fianna Fail to work closely with the SDLP towards a border poll.
It’s not that Micheal Martin is planning to demand a border poll next month, or next year. He has already said that a border poll will not be on his government’s agenda for at least five years, but he is already working away at it.
In that situation, only a very foolish unionist would sit back and do nothing in the meantime.
Sinn Fein are certainly not sitting back. They and their friends are supporting Ireland’s Future, which is fronted by singer Frances Black, a Dublin senator and Belfast solicitor Niall Murphy, ably assisted by Belfast headteacher Chris Donnelly and west Belfast businessman Gerry Carlile, as well as an array of academic activists and influencers.
It is a think-tank and lobby group, which is working towards the removal of Northern Ireland from the United Kingdom and its absorption into an Irish republic. It shares the aim of Sinn Fein, but is separate from Sinn Fein and hence not answerable for Sinn Fein.
Moreover, as a “non-party” organisation, it is able to operate in the realm of “civic society”. (Its chair is an independent senator.)
Alongside Ireland’s Future there is also Trade Unionists for a New and United Ireland, which was launched in Dublin and Belfast in 2019 and claimed the support of 150 trade union officials, including several general secretaries.
Earlier this year, it held an online discussion with ICTU president Gerry Murphy, Unison regional secretary Patricia McKeown, Mick Halpenny of Siptu and journalist and author Martina Devlin.
There is also a Facebook page entitled “1 Million Voices for Irish Unity”. It has quotes from people such as the Enniskillen-born actor Adrian Dunbar, who said: “We want our Republic, we want Connolly and Pearse’s Republic.”
There is also a 2015 quote from the actor and racing driver Michael Fassbender praising Bobby Sands and a much older quote from singer Sir Paul McCartney CH MBE.
Of course, such activities are able to draw on people who signed a series of open letters, which appeared in a nationalist newspaper some time ago and paved the way for the Ireland’s Future initiative.
Their strategy is about building Irish nationalist networks of support across sectors such as law, business, education, academia and sport. It is also about building momentum, energising nationalists and unnerving unionists.
Against that background, Peter Robinson has penned an article in which he reiterates his call for an independent unionist think-tank that could provide analysis and arguments to unionist parties.
It’s a call he first made back in the summer of 2018 at the MacGill summer school in Donegal and unionism would do well to heed what he has said.
Back in 2018, after Peter Robinson’s initial comments, I wrote a column in this paper and said of unionism: “There is a need for forward thinking and for thoughtful analysis and, in that regard, there has been a weakness within unionism.”
That’s where a think-tank could play a vital role.
That 2018 column then went on to stress the “need for a longer-term strategy for Ulster and the Union” and asked, “How can we advocate for the Union and increase support for the Union? How can we energise and mobilise the talent that is there within the broader unionist community?”
The best way to avoid a border poll is to build support for the Union, because the Secretary of State can only call a border poll if he is confident that there is a majority against the Union.
A think-tank and a broad unionist strategy can help to prevent that and thereby thwart the republican demand for a border poll.
If there is a Trade Unionists for a United Ireland, why not Trade Unionists for the Union?