Catalonia independence: View from the streets of Belfast

‘If the Spanish government’s reaction hadn’t been as harsh this might have been a non-issue’

People celebrate after the approval of the declaration of  independence during a plenary session at Catalan Assembly, at Sant Jaume square in Barcelona. Photograph: Marta Perez/EPA

People celebrate after the approval of the declaration of independence during a plenary session at Catalan Assembly, at Sant Jaume square in Barcelona. Photograph: Marta Perez/EPA

 

There were complex and at times surprising views from the people of Belfast on Friday to the news that Catalonia has declared independence from Spain and Madrid has voted to impose direct rule.

Often a simplistic expectation is that Northern nationalists and republicans support the Catalans in their quest for independence and that unionists side with the Spanish authorities.

While this is arguably true for large sections of each community, when The Irish Times spoke to those enjoying a drink in the Cathedral Quarter area of Belfast on Friday the responses were more nuanced.

At The Sunflower pub beer garden music teacher Nathan Moore (27), who is from a unionist background, said he believes the Catalans should be given the chance to vote formally on independence.

“I looked at the Spanish reaction to the referendum and it felt like an injustice, that they had been really hard done by,” he said.

“Technically it was an illegal referendum but they were showing what they wanted and it wasn’t being respected.”

Mr Moore said if there was a Border poll on Irish unity, at this point in his life, he would vote for a united Ireland but is not sure if 50 per cent plus one would be sufficient to please everyone.

“Is 70 too high, is 50 plus one too low? I don’t know,” he said.

“I would probably vote for a united Ireland because as the years have gone on I have got so fed up with how unionists are portrayed and represented.

Civil servant Joseph O’Byrne (55), who is from a nationalist background, said he believes Catalans should be convinced of the merits of remaining part of Spain.

“I think that’s why we are having the problems we are having because they haven’t been given their place,” he said.

“Spain has been very heavy handed and I don’t think that is smart.

Civil servant Russell McCune (41), who is from a unionist background said: “I think they deserve to have respect for their culture, whether they should just declare independence and leave Spain without going through official channels is a different matter.

“If they get it through the Spanish system then fair enough, go ahead, but they really do need to be more convinced to stay in Spain as it would lead to Galicia declaring Independence, Andalusia, where does it stop?

He said Spain’s reaction seemed over the top. “Let them all vote, they didn’t have to blockade,” he said.

Mr McCune said in any Border poll on Irish unity he would vote to remain part of the UK and it the vote didn’t go unionists way he did not believe there would be a violent response. “This place has changed a lot,” he said.

Barman Eoin Loughlin also said the referendum in Catalonia earlier this month did not give the full picture and people should be allowed a formal vote.

“The riots at the start of the month were similar to the Easter Rising,” he said.

“I think if the Spanish government’s reaction hadn’t been as harsh this might have been a non-issue.

Mr Loughlin added: “As someone who is sympathetic to Irish republicanism I think there are definitely parallels to be drawn between republicans in the North and the Catalan people.