Of late there has been a flurry of activity from senior members of Sinn Fein around the issue (or issues) of an all Ireland referendum and a border poll. Now these two issues and the underlying concepts that they represent, are completely different from each other and in the context of a Nation forcibly divided by a foreign power, mean two completely different things.
Not surprisingly the two proposers of these two different concepts are based in different sides of this partitioned island and are undoubtedly attempting, “to speak out of both sides of their mouths at the same time”. One is the TD for county Louth, Gerry Adams, and the other is Sinn Fein’s chair Declan Kearney. For Adams the way in which the ‘peace process’ in Ireland can be moved forward is by means of an all Ireland referendum and for Kearney what is needed is a border poll.
At this point the reader may well be asking him/herself why two senior members of the same political party are using two entirely different concepts as if the terms were interchangeable, unless there was some line of continuity. To resolve this mystery let us take a moment to define the two concepts and look at their points of difference and their points of similarity, if there are any.
An all Ireland referendum, and indeed a referendum within any nation, would entail the citizens of a whole nation being asked to vote on an issue of national importance at the same time and within the same framework. Hence, on the issue of the constitutional re-unification of the nation of Ireland, a single question to that effect would be put to the entire nation of Ireland on the same day and every Irish citizen would be entitled to cast a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’ vote, depending on their preference.
A border poll, on the other hand, would mean that an Irish citizen would have to accept that the forcible division of Ireland was a legal and a constitutional act and only citizens on one side or the other would be entitled to cast a vote on their constitutional position. Of course the vote on one side would have no legal or constitutional standing in the other side. In short a border poll under-scores the forcible division of the Irish nation in line with the artificial partitioning of the Irish nation by the British under the threat of, “immediate and terrible war”.
So, Adams and Kearney are putting forward two completely different things and almost sound as if they were from two different political parties!? However, as always the devil is in the detail and whilst Adams trumps Kearney in terms of seniority within Sinn Fein, Kearney actually represents the position of Sinn Fein –as negotiated by Adams within the Good Friday Agreement (GFA) – more accurately than Adams.
Under schedule 1 of the GFA, Adams and the leadership of Sinn Fein signed up to the undertaking that, ‘the future constitutional position of the northern state would be decided by only the northern state and subject to the triple lock enshrining the Unionist and British vetoes’. In short Sinn Fein agreed that only once the Unionists and the British agreed, could a border poll be held and that it would only be binding if the British government decided that they agreed with the result.
The nett result of this is, that due to the ‘agreement’ that Adams signed up to, the framework for an all Ireland referendum does not exist within the terms of reference of the GFA. Indeed, even the limited and unconstitutional entity of a border poll is not within Kearney’s remit to gift unless one accepts that the GFA is an unconstitutional and hence illegal agreement. Of course all of the above is only relevant if either Adams and/or Kearney are sincere in what they are saying and are not simply making politics around an issue that neither of them believes in or cares about.
Unfortunately I fear it is the latter, if it were to be the former then I would expect both politicians would be saying the same thing and more importantly I would expect that the senior Sinn Fein member in the northern assembly, Martin Mc Guinness, would be calling for a re-negotiation of the Good Friday Agreement on the basis that the existing agreement was unconstitutional and illegal.
But hold on a moment, would that not make him a ‘dissident’? Or more accurately would it not make him a Republican and allow him and his party to put forward the clear cut Republican position that, no one section of the Irish nation should be allowed to hold a veto over the entire nation (much less a foreign power) and only when the Irish people as a whole are allowed to decide on their future can Ireland be described as a Democracy.
For us the case for an all Ireland referendum is irrefutable, Ireland is a single nation divided by a military power and who maintain their presence by the use of force of arms. This contravenes not only natural law but also international laws that protect the rights of small nations to exist within a democratic framework. Why should politicians on this island be so afraid to allow the people of the nation to exercise their democratic right to decide upon their own futures and why should a political party that claims to be Republican, such as Sinn Fein, feel the need to say contradictory things by ‘speaking out of both sides of their mouths at the same time’. The case for ‘One Ireland One Vote’ is a stand alone case, it should not be confused or obscured by playing party politics with it.