Those pushing for unity poll will have to persuade more than just unionists
As political unionism continues to chase its tail, one wonders what lies ahead two or three elections hence? Historians will undoubtedly point to Brexit looking backwards but looking forward I suggest that Covid may prove a more significant inflection point.
Partition led to the formation of two countries and when marking the scorecard for the Republic, Covid has perhaps shone a bright and positive light on what has been built over the generations in the 26 counties. Ireland, notwithstanding the inevitable missteps, has responded well to Covid. In a recent Bloomberg poll Ireland was judged the most Covid resilient, although not so long ago it was among the worst. Statistics can always be misused but the incredibly high levels of participation in the vaccine roll out and the response of the young in particular are indisputable facts. As a society Ireland has literally kept faith and trust, in the validity of objective scientific evidence and the informed advice of its expert cadres.
In the sick counties we have seen a radically different response to Covid. Curiously, unlike most issues, resistance in Northern Ireland to vaccination seems to cut across the sectarian divide, although no doubt academic researchers will be kept busy for years answering that among many other questions. Even more interestingly the contrast in behaviour of the young on both sides of the border has been particularly marked. Since it is unlikely social media is more heavily used in Belfast than Dublin, it seems something more significant is at play
Politically neither Sinn Féin nor the DUP has come out of the crisis with clean hands. In autumn 2020 the DUP, with its embrace of the right wing, neo-liberal lobby and populist cries of individual freedom, caused unnecessary delay in the executive acting to protect the population that elected them. As to Sinn Féin, their ambivalent, if not cavalier, attitude to the rule of law has created a culture that suggests ignoring civic responsibility, far from being unacceptable, might be viewed by some as another example of ‘republican principles’ in action.
Looking forward to a future unification poll, these two groups – the youth in the south who embraced the vaccination programme and those in the north who either ignored or rejected it, will be the voters who ultimately decide.
On reflection one might suggest those pushing for a unity poll will have to persuade more than just unionists that unity is a good idea. Perhaps the unionists are right, we are two countries after all and the irony for SF is that they will have done their part to foster that difference.
Much has been written and broadcast on the effectiveness of Covid vaccinations and the minority who refuse to be vaccinated. As a double jabbed person I have struggled to appreciate the motives and actions of anti-vaxxers. Recently a number of extended family, friends and acquaintances have communicated their disinclination or refusal to be vaccinated. While previously not personally knowing anti-vaxxers I may have questioned their intelligence, now with direct experience I find that this is not the case.
Perviously many of us have developed belief systems influenced by parents, teachers, doctors, religious leaders and the occasional politician. However, the world that we inhabit in the 21st century, with a great abundance of information sources, has become increasingly complex. Unchallenged social media has helped the growth of disturbing movements that spew hatred of distinct groups of people. The anti-vaccination confederacy has not been influenced by the contributions of our health and scientific leaders. The constant narration of scientific facts has failed as most people don’t like too much information and certainly rail against being referred to as stupid.
Anti-vaxxers actually need to be heard and not mocked. When concerns are expressed and information directed to personalise and remedy their fears, the possibility of attitude change can result. A trawl through the various social media platforms shows that there are hundreds if not thousands of anti-vaccination sites with painful and deeply personal anecdotes. The sites combating this are few, technical and frankly boring. Governments and institutions need to allocate resources and role models to respond to these many internet platforms. Specific reminders of how medicine and education has improved our health and well-being can boost national confidence.
The government in the south is to be commended for introducing vaccination passports for hospitality. This will be further extrapolated by the travel industry as countries open up their borders. Incentives like these will nudge a minority towards vaccination. Different strategies aimed at reaching lots of different people will move us towards herd immunity.
Border poll logic flawed
In relation to Deaglán de Bréadun’s recent column (September 29) about republicans convincing Alliance over a border poll – the logic involved is flawed.
Alliance and other non-aligned voters don’t need to be convinced to take any side in a border poll, but rather we need to be recognised as an equal partner within the current system. The current consociational structure in the assembly continues to use cross-community voting, a system that does not give equal weight to votes of those who do not designate as either nationalist or unionist. While the Good Friday Agreement is the basis for what we have now, it is not perfect and updates have been made to it over the years. In the current circumstances, Alliance votes do not count as equal in value in the institutions when it comes to cross-community voting. Until a party which is neither nationalist or unionist can become deputy first minister and is not legally excluded, as is the case at the moment, then our society will continue to protect the dichotomy and be reduced to the simplistic and outdated unionist/nationalist narrative.
KELLIE ARMSTRONG MLA
MAURICE Fitzgerald’s letter – ‘One gets the feeling a united Ireland is not coming any time soon’ (September 30) – is one of the most realistic conclusions in recent years. Of course Sinn Féin and other united Irelanders play the old sectarian card which they have now diplomatically renamed demographic trends ie the Catholic population is almost 50 per cent of Northern Ireland and that, as every Catholic is also born as a united Irelander, a united Ireland is inevitable. Such sectarian – demographic – conclusions are not based upon facts. While it may be correct that the Catholic population is almost 50 per cent opinion polls suggest that only 30 per cent of the NI population want a united Ireland now. In other words some 40 per cent of Catholics no longer aspire to a united Ireland.
In the new Northern Ireland of (1) Fair Employment; (2) Allocation of social housing on a points system; (3) a new Catholic middle-class administering Northern Ireland; (4) £12 billion per annum being transferred from London to Stormont; and (5) even a Catholic selected by the UUP as its candidate in South Belfast none of this is surprising. The claim that all Catholics are united Irelanders is over. And likewise unionists must recognise that ‘Home Rule is no longer Rome Rule’.
Mullinure, Co Armagh