Unionists must prepare for inevitable border poll, says leading loyalist

Former UVF commander Billy Hutchinson says unionists should debate a united Ireland

Billy Hutchinson says political unionism in the North must join the debate about a united Ireland, even if they do not want one.  Photograph: Peter Muhly/AFP/Getty

Billy Hutchinson says political unionism in the North must join the debate about a united Ireland, even if they do not want one. Photograph: Peter Muhly/AFP/Getty

 

Unionism cannot “bury its head in the sand like an ostrich” over the prospect of a border poll, the former UVF commander and Progressive Unionist Party (PUP) leader Billy Hutchinson has suggested.

Mr Hutchinson said political unionism does not even want to discuss the prospect of such a poll, but must do so as one is inevitable in the long term.

Writing in a new book, Laying it on the Line: The Border and Brexit, Mr Hutchinson states: “No unionist is ever going to say that they would support a united Ireland. But I think we need to consider a number of scenarios.

“If it was to happen, what do we want? Nothing concentrates the mind like a hanging, but I don’t think we’ve got there yet. I don’t know when there’ll be a border poll, but the British government can only hold on for so long.

“Unfortunately political unionism doesn’t want to negotiate around a united Ireland, and neither do I, but I want to hear what political unionism has to say about all of these issues.”

Mr Hutchinson predicted that unionists would win a border poll if it was held tomorrow, but might not win later polls given the demographic changes in the North.

Essays

The book is edited by political commentator Jude Collins, who said in compiling it that he wanted to canvass as “wide a range of views as possible”. There are 26 essays in the book from public figures in the Republic, Northern Ireland and the United States.

Victims’ campaigner Raymond McCord accuses the DUP in the book of “destroying unionism” and making the unionist people “look bad”.

“It’s [the DUP] making the unionist people look as if they’re sectarian, it’s making the unionist people look like they don’t believe in equality. It’s making the unionist people look as if everything is about themselves.”

Former Ulster Unionist politician and ex-British army infantry officer Glenn Bradley accused DUP leader Arlene Foster of “festering” over the events in the past by allowing it to “permeate her rationale”.

Mrs Foster’s father was shot by the IRA during the Troubles and survived. Mrs Foster was on a school bus which was targeted by the IRA because the bus driver was a part-time member of the Ulster Defence Regiment, an infantry regiment of the British Army.

Mr Bradley said a border poll was inevitable and political unionism has made a “huge, huge error in that they’re focused inward and incestuously with their own. And they are utterly abandoning if not infuriating that silent acquiesence that has always maintained the union”.

‘Another way’

Former Derry footballer and GAA pundit Joe Brolly said he assumed growing up that “everybody could see that the Provos were in the right” and he arrived as a student at Trinity College Dublin with “the maturity of an 11-year old. I came to see that there might be another way that observed the sanctity of human life”.

Mr Brolly predicted that within 15 years Northern Ireland will be “dead” and “Free Staters will vote for a united Ireland and there is absolutely no doubt about that” and will do so under pressure from Irish America.

Fianna Fáil Senator Mark Daly said inaction in the Republic about progressing a united Ireland is as a result of the “fear of kicking the sleeping dog of loyalist paramilitary violence”

He explains: “There is a problem within the political system here. The government and the civil service are just petrified of upsetting Britain, of upsetting unionists.”

Former Taoiseach John Bruton stated in the book that he not believe that Irish unity is a “deeply realistic” proposition at present.

“I don’t think we have faced up to all the implications of this. I think it’s still at the level of sentiment. There are financial implications, implications regarding security.”

He said unity would be better approached by deepening co-operation on both sides of the border and “leave the issue of ultimate sovereignty – which is a theoretical concept anyway – leave it out of the conversation or positioned more towards the back of the conversation, you’ll get much further”.

In a statement on Thursday, following some criticism on social media about his comments, Mr Hutchinson said “let me state now and for the record. I am a British citizen, and I wholeheartedly believe Northern Ireland’s best position sits within a United Kingdom. ”

He had stated “that I do not want to negotiate anything in or around a United Ireland, new or not.

“But I do want the discussions to start within political Unionism on how we address the changing demographics in our country. How we put the positives of the Union in to the modern context. How we reach out and make the Union work for all its citizens.

“Unionism needs to heed the call for a Unionist Convention to challenge, discuss and agree a path forward. Forward to a thriving and prosperous Northern Ireland secure within the United Kingdom.”