Letters to the Editor

Sinn Féin has never considered possibility of losing referendum


The new poll indicating that there is far less enthusiasm from people in Northern Ireland to bring about a constitutional shift must be a devastating blow to Sinn Féin’s plans for a united Ireland. Just over a quarter favour unity in Northern Ireland according to The Irish Times. The poll also showed a significant number of those who are not in favour of a referendum at all and high numbers of undecided should a referendum take place. Sinn Féin have pushed hard for a vote on unity, but it seems many of Northern Ireland’s people want to stay within the UK and it is quite unlikely that a referendum would succeed in changing its constitutional status. Again and again, poll after poll, has shown some level of doubt about whether Northern Ireland would leave the UK. In fact, many polls show no immediate want or need to hold a referendum soon with many saying it should happen down the line – as much as 10 years down the line which indicates great reluctance. What Sinn Féin has never really considered is that the referendum could be lost, if they succeed in getting a border poll? Imagine that the ‘Irish question’ as it was formerly known, was answered by the people in Northern Ireland in the negative and reject the idea of a united Ireland. Is that the end of it for Sinn Féin, given that devolution has also failed? What happens then? Do republicans who feel the armed struggle is the only way go back to terrorism and the return of the very bad days of the Troubles, given that democratic routes have failed? If Sinn Féin loses the referendum it will be the most significant thing which has happened to this island since partition. Sinn Féin have not thought things through and the profound consequences of a no vote in Northern Ireland which is likely. The referendum will mean a vote to permanently leave or stay within the UK. Sinn Féin may get a border vote under enormous protest with a huge unionist and loyalist backlash, but they sure as hell will not get a second vote on the matter, should the secretary of state sanction one under the GFA/BA.
A failed border poll in lieu of failed devolution could a recipe for the return of days of the Troubles – which is still played out today in the shape of bomb alerts and other terrorist activity. Sinn Féin should not speak lightly of a border poll and consider the possibility and probability of failure in enshrining partition.     

Shanbally, Co Cork


Steel Shutter revisited

During the most violent year of the Troubles, psychologist Pat Rice and Academy Award winning film maker Bill McGaw rolled into Belfast to recruit participants in a group encounter that they wanted to film. In an extraordinary series of events, they managed to recruit nine courageous Belfast residents and fly them to Pittsburgh where they were joined by the famous psychologist Carl Rogers. This remarkable and early example of cross community engagement was captured on film that became known as The Steel Shutter. It remains a significant record of a unique period of history given its time and context.

The participants in The Steel Shutter represented both sides of the community and a range of views. Their experiences were raw, their opinions entrenched, and the initial exchanges were cagey. As the discussion continued and were facilitated there was a breathtaking  growth of empathy and trust between them, and an opening of hearts and minds. Still, many of the exchanges were edited for fear of repercussions back in Belfast.

Last week in Belfast, to mark the 50th anniversary of the film, The Steel Shutter Revisited conference brought together commentators to reflect on the discussion; the consensus achieved and the progress, if any, in the intervening years. We were fortunate to have representation from school children who brought into sharp focus just what is at stake if we are unable to encounter the other side on the level of shared connection and humanity.

The unedited film is available free to view on YouTube.

It was a great privilege to bring it into focus in Belfast and I commend it to your readers.

Boston, USA


Obvious flaws in protocol challenge

The legal challenge to the Northern Ireland Protocol – led by a group of unionists including Jim Allister – due to be heard in the UK Supreme Court appears to rely unduly upon the Acts of Union 1800 which united the Kingdom of Great Britain and the Kingdom of Ireland to form the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. However, there appear to be obvious flaws in the legal challenge. 

First, Northern Ireland did not exist in 1800 and so the Acts of Union surely cannot be said to apply to it. Secondly, the kingdom of Ireland exited the United Kingdom a century ago to form the Republic of Ireland (NI is not a kingdom), and so how can the Acts of Union 1800 be at all relevant to the NI Protocol? This last observation, however, has relevance for those who argue there is no Article 50 in the Acts of Union to allow the constituent nations of the United Kingdom to leave it. 

The Republic of Ireland came about after Sinn Féin secured a majority of the seats in the 1919 Westminster election and chose instead to reinstate the Irish Parliament (Dáil Éireann) instead, which led to constitutional negotiations to form the new state. This is probably the route that will now be followed by the SNP at the next Westminster elections.  

Belfast BT9


Reality check on Brexit vote

Of all the voting regions in the United Kingdom, Northern Ireland had the lowest voter turnout in the Brexit referendum with 60 per cent. Such was the disinterest in the referendum that 40 per cent of Northern Ireland people chose not to vote, 35 per cent chose to remain and 25 per cent chose to leave. The claim by aggrieved Remainers that the majority of Northern Ireland people were dragged out off the European Union against their wishes doesn’t stand up to objective scrutiny.

Dungannon, Co Tyrone


Upholding Irish neutrality

In her impressive interview on the Late Late Show, Mary Lou McDonald spoke strongly in favour of upholding Irish neutrality.  This, of course, echoed the results of the Irish Times and other opinion polls on the subject.

If Mary Lou and her party end up in government, will they tell their friends in the American administration that they can no longer use Shannon Airport as a staging post for military personnel and equipment on their way to and from wars around the world ? 

Dún Laoghaire, Co Dublin


Letters to the Editor