Border poll could ‘erupt in violence’, SDLP MLA warns

Nichola Mallon says a rushed vote on Irish unity is an ‘absolute recipe for disaster’

New SDLP deputy leader Nichola Mallon has warned that rushing to a Border poll where Irish unity is not clearly mapped out is "an absolute recipe for disaster" that could result in violence.

The North Belfast MLA made the comments during an event on Northern Ireland's place in a united Ireland at the Lighthouse Summer School in Killough, Co Down, on Saturday.

Ms Mallon said many people needed to be persuaded of the benefits of a reunified, reconciled Ireland, which “cannot be led by one party alone”.

“To be successful it needs plurality of contributions,” she said.

She said she would like a Border poll to be called "when it can be won" and not during the Brexit process, as this would play on people's fears.

“You need to show people clearly what they are voting for,” she said.

“Just calling a Border poll and getting your 50 [per cent] plus one is an absolute recipe for disaster. And I honestly believe and fear that it will actually erupt in violence.”

Among those in the audience at the event in Killough community hall was former British soldier Glenn Bradley (50), who comes from a loyalist background and describes himself as an “open-minded mercenary voter”.

He told The Irish Times that nobody, “whether it be a politician from the South, a Northern nationalist or republican”, had ever tried to explain what a new Ireland would look like.

He said he believes the basis for the future of "the North, Northeast, Northern Ireland, whatever you want to call it" is the 1998 Belfast Agreement.

He urged politicians “to get back to government and delivery on quality of life issues, and to cement and ratify the Good Friday Agreement . . . in order to deliver the future, whether that be the continuance of the union or a unified Ireland”.

Frazer McCammond (60), from Dromore, Co Down, who described himself as “a Protestant from a very unionist background” and “an Irishman first”, said people from his background were dissuaded from speaking out if their views did not correspond with the mainstream.

“I would be seen as a traitor on some level,” he said.

When Mr McCammond voted in favour of the Belfast Agreement, he did not believe there would be any change to the constitutional position of Northern Ireland in his lifetime. However, he said that if there was a Border poll on Irish unity, he would vote in favour, as Brexit has changed everything.

“I believe that Brexit has changed that dynamic and there are Protestants like me who will vote for a united Ireland from a pragmatic point of view.”

Irish Constitution

Legal consultant and commentator Patricia MacBride, a former victims’ commissioner, said the Irish Constitution was “the premise where we start”.

“We start from the building blocks of the principle of consent and a democratic wish to unite all the people on the island of Ireland.”

Ms MacBride added: “Economic growth of 1.2 per cent in the North last year versus 5 per cent in the South: I mean, who wouldn’t want that?”

Sinn Féin South Down MP Chris Hazzard said he believed there would be a Border poll in five to 10 years' time, adding that there was "an opportunity to build something entirely fresh.

“We are on a trajectory toward some unique political solution around the North of Ireland in general when it comes to Brexit.”

Alliance Party Strangford MLA Kellie Armstrong said her cross-community party was "open to listening", but so far she was not convinced of the economic arguments for Irish unity or that there was a sufficient interest in reunification from the Republic.

Ms Armstrong said she identified as “Northern Irish” and that she was “both Irish and British”. She appealed for society to have greater respect, acceptance and space in discussions for those with “fluid identities”.

Fianna Fáil Louth TD and party spokesman on North-South co-operation Declan Breathnach said the "priority and focus must be on the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement".

The event was organised by Irish News political correspondent John Manley in association with the Slugger O'Toole politics website, and was chaired by Irish News security correspondent Allison Morris.