Brexit may hasten united Ireland, says Pearse Doherty

Doherty challenged at MacGill Summer School to ensure SF end Commons abstentionism

Pearse Doherty: said seven SF votes in Commons would have no impact because the British Labour party now supported Brexit. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Pearse Doherty: said seven SF votes in Commons would have no impact because the British Labour party now supported Brexit. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

 

One of the unforeseen consequences of Brexit is that it has put the issue of Irish unity on the political agenda, Sinn Féin TD Pearse Doherty told the MacGill Summer School on Wednesday.

Mr Doherty, during discussion of the impact of Brexit on Border counties, said a debate was now opened up on unity.

“Perhaps, it may just be the case that, as one of the not-bargained-for consequences of Brexit, the argument for Irish unity will take on new and never-before-seen impetus,” he said.

“Just as Brexit quickly entered into our vocabulary today, it’s not beyond all probability to believe that, at its ultimate conclusion and as the term slowly begins to fade from popular usage, this demise will coincide with the emergence of a new language.

“A language which seeks to tear down the Border, to build bridges, not walls: a language of hope rather than one of fear,” he said.

Mr Doherty said that counties such as Donegal would suffer most by the UK leaving the EU. “If Brexit is to deliver the political, economic and social earthquake which many believe it will, then right here – I’m sorry to have to say – will be its destructive epicentre,” he said.

During the debate Mr Doherty was challenged from the audience to ensure that Sinn Féin’s seven MPs take its seats in the House of Commons. Prof Brigid Laffan of the European University in Florence said such votes could put a “spanner in the works” of the Conservative Party’s ambition to see a Brexit vote carried at Westminster.

Mr Doherty, however, repeated that Sinn Féin entered the recent Westminster election on an abstentionist policy and would not be altering its position. He argued that the seven Sinn Féin votes would have no impact because the British Labour party now supported Brexit.

Abdication of responsibility

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said there was “no point in having a big mandate if you are not prepared to use it”.

In his speech Mr Eastwood said “polarisation” and the “abdication of political responsibility” in Northern Ireland were exacerbated by the fact that a functioning Stormont could help address the challenges of Brexit.

He said that the institutions of the Belfast Agreement provided the infrastructure to secure a special deal for Northern Ireland. But the political stalemate was preventing the grasping of that opportunity.

““The DUP and Sinn Féin seem determined to lock us all in a political arm wrestle which no one can win,” Mr Eastwood said.

“Brexit is one of the most serious issues to confront this island since partition, yet the absence of our institutions means that we have been left voiceless,” he added.

Mr Eastwood said Ireland must remain immovable on the “bottom line” demand that there can be no hardening of the Border in Ireland. “The job ahead is to ensure that distant memories do not become new realities.”

“In truth, the main effect of the imposition of a hardened Border in Ireland would rip up and rip apart what has become the familiar pattern of life from Derry to Dundalk,” he said.

“It would bring a shuddering halt to the familiar, which we have all been living with since the beginning days of the peace process,” he warned.

Mr Eastwood disagreed with but defended Irish diplomat Ray Bassett’s suggestion that the Republic quit the EU along with the UK.

“We have short memories in this country if we allow ourselves once more to slip into the trap of unthinking dismissal of the contrarian view or of the awkward whistleblower,” he said.