'Inspired' by Scots, Nationalists push for Irish unity vote

Although the pro-British Protestants still make up a majority of the Northern Irish population, Nationalist leader Adams intensified his push for a border poll

'Inspired' by Scots, Nationalists push for Irish unity vote

World Bulletin/News Desk

Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams said Scotland's "inspiring" referendum on independence would accelerate a vote to unite Ireland, a prospect quickly dismissed by Unionists who share power in Northern Ireland.

Scotland spurned independence in a historic vote that threatened to rip the United Kingdom apart but an electrifying campaign has emboldened separatist movements across Europe from Catalonia to Flanders.

Predominantly Catholic Nationalists in Northern Ireland, who remained part of United Kingdom in a northern province dominated by Protestants after the Irish state secured independence from Britain in 1921, maintained a studied silence in recent weeks.

Although the pro-British Protestants still make up a majority of the Northern Irish population, Nationalist leader Adams intensified his push for a border poll - which is allowed no more than once every seven years under the 1998 Good Friday Agreement peace deal.

Sinn Fein has argued that under the terms of the agreement, there is a right to a referendum and that there should be a debate on the issue. "The campaign in Scotland will accelerate that entire process," Adams told Irish national broadcaster RTE.

"We should never lose sight of the fact that our people are divided and we now have an opportunity to democratically and peacefully to reunite."

Britain's Secretary of State to Northern Ireland may call a border poll at any time, according to the 1998 agreement that brought about peace. It also specifies that the Secretary "shall" order a referendum if it appears likely that a majority of those voting would seek to form part of a united Ireland.

Adams told journalists that his party wanted a referendum to be held during the next term of Northern Ireland's Assembly, starting in 2016, and that he did not think that would be too soon, coming just two decades into a fragile peace process.

Thirty years of sectarian violence between mainly Catholic nationalists seeking Irish union and pro-British Protestants wishing to stay in the United Kingdom was mostly ended by the peace deal and subsequent power-sharing agreement.

However, the worst rioting in years was sparked two years ago by a decision to limit the number of days the British flag flies in Belfast after the growing nationalist community secured its first majority on city council.

"There is no prospect of them achieving their goal of taking Northern Ireland out of the United Kingdom," said Jeffrey Donaldson, a member of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) which shares power with Sinn Fein in Northern Ireland.

DUP leader and Northern Ireland First Minister Peter Robinson added that he was not afraid of giving the people of Northern Ireland their say but all the evidence suggested there was no desire for a border poll.


Robinson said if they could be operated smoothly, he would consider the option of more powers being devolved to Northern Ireland after British Prime Minister David Cameron promised a greater say to Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Adams called for full devolution.

Mike Nesbitt, leader of the smaller Ulster Unionist Party, said the result opened the door to the immediate devolution of corporation tax powers to Belfast so it could compete with the lower rate in the south and make the province less reliant on a 10 billion pound ($16 billion) annual grant from London.

Cameron said in Belfast last year that a final decision on corporate tax would be made by the end of 2014. Northern Ireland applies Britain's rate of 21 percent compared to the 12.5 percent that tempts more multinational firms south of the border

While analysts see changes to Northern Ireland's devolved government as inevitable, most do not believe nationalists can secure a united Ireland while Protestants, who traditionally vote for unionist parties, remain a majority of voters.

The proportion of Protestants has fallen to 48 percent from 53 percent 10 years ago, the 2010 census showed, while the proportion of Catholics increased to 45 percent from 44.

Demographers have predicted that Catholics, who are younger and have higher birth rates, could become a majority of voters within a generation.

However in the last major opinion poll in 2011, only one-third of nationalists said they wanted a united Ireland, with many privately voicing concerns at the time about Ireland's weaker economy and social safety net.

"I think the Scottish referendum proves that you can shoot that fox quite easily. There's a danger that if you run for this particular campaign too soon, you're going to lose it," said University College Dublin professor David Farrell.

"I think it would be wise for Sinn Fein to bide their time and wait for a better opportunity that this."

Güncelleme Tarihi: 19 Eylül 2014, 16:56