McGuinness in Irish unity poll call

Kevin Meagher reports on the calls by Martin McGuinness for a referendum on Northern Ireland's status in the UK

Demographics of Northern Ireland. Green people are Catholic, Orange people are Protestant, and White people are Lakes. The lakes are the ones to watch out for; a shifty lot.


Northern Ireland’s Deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness, wants to see a referendum on Irish unity by as early as 2016.

In an interview with the Irish Examiner, the Sinn Fein heavyweight argues that the “sensible timing” of such a vote would be sometime during the next session of Northern Ireland’s Assembly, sometime after 2015.

McGuinness argues that the vote would be on the question of:

Whether or not the people of the Six Counties wish to retain the link with what is described as the United Kingdom, or be part of a united Ireland.

He added:

“I don’t see any reason whatsoever why that should not be considered”

McGuinness also believes Sinn Fein’s power-sharing partners, the DUP, will support such a move.

Last November, first minister Peter Robinson, leader of the Democratic Unionists, conceded that he may be the last Protestant first minister, with Northern Ireland’s in-built Protestant, unionist majority steadily whittling away through demographic change.

However he argued that the Irish Republic’s recent economic woes were “not appetising” for nationalist voters:

“I think the more stable our structure, the more peaceful Northern Ireland is, the more it works as part of the UK, then the more people will think, ‘Why on earth would we change?'”

Under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement, the decision whether to call a referendum on Northern Ireland’s constitutional status rests with the secretary of state.

McGuinness said:

“I think, in all probability, the people who have got the power to put that in place won’t even contemplate it this side of the next Assembly elections, which conceivably could be 2015 or 2016.”

Although 53 per cent of Northern Ireland’s population identified themselves as Protestant in the 2001 census, a recent study showed that when asked to state their religion, 54 per cent of boys and 55 per cent of girls in Northern Ireland described themselves as Catholic. Moreover, 49 per cent of Northern Irish students were Catholics, while only 35 per cent were Protestants.

Although the broad assumption remains that Catholics want a united Ireland, while Protestants prefer to remain part of the UK, McGuinness argues this view is now “too sectarian”.

As the British state already faces the real prospect of Scottish independence in 2014, its oldest and most persistent secessionist issue – Ireland – looks set to come back into focus once more.

See also:

• UUP infighting as McNarry says he feels “abused” and has been “kicked in the teeth” – Ed Jacobs, January 31st 2012

• What’s the point of the UUP? – Ed Jacobs, January 19th 2012

• Preview 2012 – Northern Ireland – Ed Jacobs, December 30th 2011

• Should Northern Ireland football scrap God Save the Queen? – Ed Jacobs, December 13th 2011

• UUP renew calls for opposition at Stormont – Ed Jacobs, October 25th 2011

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  • Selohesra

    And will the other Irish counties get a chance to vote to move the other way?

  • Kevin

    Any evidence of any demand for that?

  • Ruairi Geraghty

    I assume an Irish unity referendum would have to include voters in the Republic and I would not be certain that it would pass

  • Anonymous

    Good. Northern Ireland is a massive money sink, I’d be happy to let Dubliners pay for it rather than Londoners. Although with the state of the Irish economy, they might have other things on their mind. Perhaps the North will have to learn to live without subsidies?

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  • Mr. Sensible

    I can’t see this being reopened after the troubles…

  • Tom Wilson

    ‘What is described as the United Kingdom’ At least Salmond’s digs at the UK are subtle.

  • Keith Ruffles

    This is all based, of course, on the assumption that all Catholics are Nationalists and all Protestants are Unionists and that there are no other religions – or lack of them – in Northern Ireland at all.

    The truth is the political landscape in Northern Ireland is far more diverse than this.

    I’m also slightly uneasy with the fact that this potential constitutional change – if it happens – is likely to because of demographic change and the assumption that cultural ‘Irishness’ is incompatible with potical ‘Britishness’ – even though we assume without too much question the possibility of being English and British, Welsh and British etc. Politics based purely on ethno-cultural identity is never an appetising prospect and those on the left should be aware of this.

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