Border poll would be divisive in Northern Ireland, says McCrea
Leader of NI21 unionist party says only a quarter of North electorate would support removal of Border
Basil McCrea said he could see the strategic benefits for Sinn Féin in calling for a Border poll in that it would set in train a series of such polls every seven years. Photograph: Pacemaker
Holding a border poll now would be deeply divisive and have a polarising effect on the two communities in Northern Ireland and would ultimately be counter-productive for those seeking a united Ireland, a leading unionist has said.
Basil McCrea, leader of the newly formed NI 21 Unionist Party and MLA for Lagan Valley, said he had no doubt but that if a poll was held today on removing the border, it would win the support of just 25pc of people living in Northern Ireland.
Speaking on a call for a border poll at a Sinn Féin Summer School in Baile Bhuirne in the Múscraí Gaeltacht in Co Cork, Mr McCrea said he could see the strategic benefits for Sinn Féin in that it would set in train a series of border polls every seven years.
“A poor result now would provide a wonderfully low baseline figure from which to build for the future, with every modest increase hailed as progress towards the ultimate goal, every small increment would be hailed as small victory on the road to Irish unity.”
A border poll would also provide Sinn Féin with a simple, emotive issue upon which to campaign on both sides of the border and deflect attention away from soaring youth unemployment, surging hospital waiting lists and balancing the budget, he said.
“From a party point of view, it would unite the party, energise the base, and out manoeuvre your dissidents. - it’s a brilliant strategy..... if your commitment is to Sinn Féin alone and your allegiance is not to the people of Ireland but only to the party.
“But if you are interested in the people of Ireland, if you want to build a better Ireland North and South, if you are serious about peace, reconciliation and being a normal political party you may want to think again,” said the Donegal-born politician.
Mr McCrea said that if Sinn Féin wanted to realise its vision of a united Ireland, then it should first seek to convince all the people of Northern Ireland that it had their best interests at heart and prove its competence in government by delivering real benefits.
And he said Sinn Féin’s strategy was flawed in that regard by virtue of its criticism of how bad things were in the Republic where unemployment is high, public services are cut, people are in mortgage distress and young people are emigrating.
“You cannot ride two horses at the same time. You cannot lacerate the government for failing to address the problems of the south while at the same time trying to convince people north of the border it’s wonderful here and the time is ripe for a border poll.”
Responding, Sinn Féin deputy leader, Mary Lou McDonald, said she accepted
that the idea of a border poll was an emotive issue for both republicans
and unionists but any logical common sense approach would see the benefits
of Irish unity.
“Leaving aside ideology and identity, is anybody seriously suggesting that on a small island with a small population, that it makes sense to have two of everything ? That, if I may say so, is just a little bit Irish,” she said,
Regarding Mr McCrea’s contention that a border poll would be divisive, Ms McDonald said that on the basis of that logic, all elections in the North
should be suspended because elections and good political discussions on important issues are divisive.
Ms McDonald said that Mr McCrea’s argument that unionists would not want to join with such an economically and socially bankrupt state as the South was understandable but that was not what Sinn Féin was advocating when it call
for Irish unity.
“Our call for Irish unity isn’t a call for an extended Free State ...I don’t see my job as an Irish republican to sell the southern state to our unionist brothers and sister -I wouldn’t insult their intelligence ... we are not salesmen and women for the Glorious South.
“We, as political activists, are saying in the best tradition of Irish republicanism, united we are stronger and together we can create something better, equal and democratic where no one’s identity is threatened and religious and civil liberties are guaranteed.”