Mary Kelly: What’s the hurry for a border poll?

Sinn Fein's Mary Lou McDonald and Michelle O'Neill celebrate the historic support won by the party in last week's council elections. Picture by Mal McCann
Sinn Fein's Mary Lou McDonald and Michelle O'Neill celebrate the historic support won by the party in last week's council elections. Picture by Mal McCann Sinn Fein's Mary Lou McDonald and Michelle O'Neill celebrate the historic support won by the party in last week's council elections. Picture by Mal McCann

That old French saying, 'Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose', could have been coined to sum up the post-election landscape in Northern Ireland.

There’s been acres of news coverage pointing up the historic surge in support for Sinn Féin, which saw them win the top spot in local government, well ahead of the DUP and in sync with their lead in the last Assembly elections.

It’s been described as “seismic” – the first election in the history of Northern Ireland in which nationalist parties won more votes than unionist parties, polling 19,000 votes ahead of unionism.

But now that the dust has settled, we’re back to exactly the same situation. Stormont is still mothballed. The DUP is still demanding some re-negotiation of the Windsor Framework to bolster their diminishing sense of Britishness.

Suspicions abound that what they’re really at is finding a legal mechanism that will work against any possible majority in a future border poll, which is back as a conversation in some circles.

Laughably, Ian Og told BBC Talkback that a 50+1 vote for unity wouldn’t be sufficient for such a huge constitutional change. Nor would 50+2, even though that was enough to take the UK out of the European Union. Ah, sez he, but we’ve learned our lesson from that. Really?

A News Letter editorial opines that nations like America, France and Spain wouldn’t allow part of their country to vote to leave: “These great countries all say that it is a matter for the entire nation, not just the local area that might want to secede.”

They should be careful what they wish for. A YouGov poll a few years ago showed a significant lack of interest with more than half of all Brits (54 per cent) saying they would not be bothered either way by NI leaving the UK, with a similar percentage (53 per cent) of Conservative voters saying they wouldn’t care either.

But what’s the hurry for a border poll? The notion of a united Ireland is still too abstract for many people who quite like the idea, but aren’t sure how it would work financially.

People are less likely to vote for something that they don’t fully understand – better stick with what you know. The vote for Scottish independence was a case in point. Voters feared the unknown and worried that economically, the argument for a break with the UK hadn’t been made sufficiently.

For many unionists it wouldn’t matter how well the financial arguments for unity would stack up. Don’t forget Sir Jeffrey was so keen on Brexit he was relaxed about 40,000 potential job losses if there was a hard border. You can imagine the slogans about their birthright not being up for sale etc etc.

For die-hard republicans, it’s pretty much the same. They’ll be sanguine about the loss of the NHS, the BBC and the security blanket of the British Exchequer because, well, sure it’ll be grand when we can get the Brits out and er... take back control of our country.

It’s the currently undecideds who will ultimately decide the future. They are the persuadables but not enough has been done ahead of any border poll to make them take a risk.

The poll will happen eventually but in the meantime it would be good to make this place work better, while finding out a bit more about what an alternative would look like.

Why not wait a bit longer to ensure a likely win? Don’t forget that if it’s lost first time, than it will be kicked into the long grass for another seven years.


The actor Jude Law has revealed how he doused himself in a specially brewed scent blended from “blood, faecal matter and sweat” to play Henry VIII in Firebrand, a drama which has premiered at the Cannes film festival.

He’d read that Henry, who suffered from gout, smelt so terrible his presence could be detected from three rooms away: “His leg was rotting so badly, he hid it with rose water. So I thought it would have a great impact if I smelt awful.”

It’s not recorded what his co-star, Alicia Vikander, who plays Catherine Parr, thought about this dedication to the thespian art.

But it reminded me of the story about Dustin Hoffman, who played alongside Laurence Olivier in Marathon Man. Hoffman stayed awake for 72 hours to properly convey the exhaustion his character was suffering.

“My dear boy,” replied Olivier, when the actor explained his method. “Why don’t you just try acting?”