Is It Time For A Citizens' Assembly On A United Ireland?Highlights from The Pat Kenny Show
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- 15 Sep 2020
Is it time for a citizens' assembly on a united Ireland? Niall Murphy, Belfast Solicitor and secretary for the ‘Ireland’s Future’ group thinks so and he joined Pat to tell him why.
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This is news talk from the backstop to Sinn Fein's success in the general election to Boris Johnson's latest Brexit antics.
It seems the arguments for the Border Patrol keep piling up and up. And if my next guest has his way, we'll be seeing a referendum on a united Ireland in the next three years. Dan Murphy is a Belfast solicitor and secretary of an organisation called For Ireland's Future and is on the line now. Good morning, Nigel.
Good morning. Thank you for coming out.
This time limit you've set yourself, is there any particular reason why you've given yourself three years to try and get this over the line?
Well, it's a conversational time limit, obviously has not been imposed and everything is still to be discussed, debated and agreed. But the reason that we have respectfully proposed a debate is because if you're going to do anything, you have to have a date by which it's done. You have to have a timeframe on a framework within which to plan unproper on the date that we respectfully suggest is the 22nd of May, 2023. And that's on Monday. And as we all know, Mondays are not ideal for anything, but it does provide for sufficient time to allow the required levels of preparation.
And the reason that we have suggested that it is because that would be the 25th anniversary of the referendum, which occurred on both sides of the border in 1998, which the people of Ireland mandated the political agreement of the Good Friday Agreement, which occurred some six weeks previous. So 25 years is a generation. We consider that that's an appropriate passage of time to give expression, give constitutional legislative expression to a mechanism within the Good Friday Agreement, which provides for the evolutionary constitutional change on this island by means of a Border Patrol.
I have resided under the principle of consent through the north, being a part of the jurisdiction of the United Kingdom. And I respectfully consider that the time has come to test that principle of consent, to give expression to the people on all sides of the political spectrum, to discuss a lot of debate, to guard against what we saw.
We saw what happened with Brexit, where it was at 52 48, in favour of leaving the EU.
And people are saying, how in God's name do they come up with this simple majority idea for such a profound change? They perhaps should have looked for a two thirds majority. So the question is, in terms of such a profound change on this island, how big a majority should we be looking for to ensure that we won't get a reaction, shall we say, from people who are deeply unhappy with any new arrangement?
Well, there there has to be discussion, debate and preparation. That's that's what I would say immediately. But with regards to 50 percent plus one, the jurisdiction in the north has had experience of with a majority and have had a civil rights campaign for one man, one vote, and that cannot be deviated from 50 percent. Plus one is the Democratic norm worldwide. In the last four referenda held in the north, they have all been 50 percent plus one.
And it would be perceived as undemocratic to change the rules for a border poll. It was 50 percent plus one for the 1973 border poll, for the 1975 EEC referendum, for the Good Friday Agreement, of course, which I mentioned in 1988, and also the Brexit referendum in 2016. So a 50 percent plus one has been regarded as an optimum transportation. And I have resided here on the principle of consent way with those who aspire to Irish unity have to deviate from that democratic norm.
Why, surely on the argument might be purely on security grounds that if it turns out that 50 percent plus one, that might be one, it might be a hundred, might even be a thousand, whatever it might be, that that would leave so many people of a unionist persuasion really, really angry, maybe to the point of a recurrence of violence, this time instigated by the loyalist paramilitaries rather than the nationalist paramilitaries.
Well, respectfully, having lived through and endured a lifetime of conflict, you know, I'm a professional, I work as a solicitor here in Belfast and would represent many dozens, if not hundreds of families from all sides of the political spectrum dealing with the legacy of conflict. What and with regards to the political realities. I don't respectfully think that the threat of loyalist violence is a realistic feature for a democratic. We do have a police service in the north which could not tolerate or stand by at the outbreak of such violence.
There are I know what you're saying, that, you know, there is not maybe the mood at the moment for anything like this and the rule of law will persist. And there's more confidence in the PSNI than there ever was in the RUC. But if there's a group of people and it doesn't take that many, as we know, to cause a lot of trouble, I mean, even the activities of the dissident Republicans can cause very severe security difficulties.
If you get a bunch of people who feel utterly disenfranchised by the result of this poll, which means that they no longer feel part of the United Kingdom because they have been politically denied that even though in their hearts they may feel they belong to that kind of impetus can drive people to do things they might not otherwise have done.
The reality in the North is that that analysis would be microscopic and the wider landscape and we come up as a democracy, tolerate the threat of violence to democratic evolution. You know, that's a fundamental point that I would like to make. But emotionally, almost really, the the the drive for constitutional change has been exacerbated by the worst excesses of Brexit and which itself is driven by English nationalism. So that threat of of of loyalist violence is at itself at odds with English nationalism.
So really, an economic border has already been proposed to be imposed.
And the Irish say that hasn't happened by basically the bottom line is that those those who might know your bottom line is that those who would seek to usurp whatever new arrangements would be there through violence would find no friends anywhere.
The English nationalists want rid of them anyway. But do you think, though, that they won't like to feel that that nobody wants them there, they literally have no home?
Well, I respectfully I would think that it's incumbent upon all of us, you know, to be as welcoming as possible, not only north, but also in the south. You know, people who would be opposed to reunification of this island need to have their voice heard. They require to articulate their concerns. Sure, accommodation can be met to assuage those concerns. It would be incumbent upon the rest of us to do that. But we do need to hear the concerns.
We do need to converse and discuss what they are. There was a report by Senator Mark Dilli which sought to give voice to some of the concerns and also which, you know, gave an economic analysis.
And I know your view is that Northern Ireland is not an economy. It's not big enough. You know, the economy of Manchester is greater than the economy of Northern Ireland, that sort of thing. Yeah. And Mark Daly's contention was that a whole Ireland economy would actually work. And the the remittances from Westminster, which are required to keep Northern Ireland solvent, would be replaced by increased economic activity. That's his thesis, I believe.
Yeah. Yeah. And it's a thesis which is shared in more detail by many economic commentators. David Williams, obviously in The Irish Times, Paul Gosling, an economic adviser and started to develop the writings of Professor Seamus McGuinness at the MSRA and also Hoeppner at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver has modelled what worked on all Ireland economy would be. Dr Hubers analysis is that in eight years, the economic boon to the island as a whole could be as much as 35 billion on one model.
So it is in all of our interests, every citizen. On the island, I think I would argue, to avail of the economic advantages that would come from reunification, the partition has failed certainly the citizens in the north. Williams has written that in 1921, at the time of partition, 80 percent of the industrial output of the entire island came from, you know, three counties around Belfast and 1911. Belfast was a bigger city. It was by far bigger than from Dublin, and that is now wholly reversed.
Dublin's four times as big as Belfast in terms of exports, the metric that would demonstrate the failure of partition the South as an export of 283 billion euro, whereas the north is only 10 billion. So we feel that it's in everybody's advantage for all of our stop it to to avail of the advantages and positivity from foreign direct investment, not unification would bring.
One of the problems, of course, was Brexit, because while the UK was inside the EU, I mean, you had differences in terms of attitude to sovereignty and, you know, which flag you respected and so on. But the nuts and bolts of daily living, everyone in the EU, same rules, seamless borders anyway in terms of export and import. And then along came this daft idea of Brexit from the Tories and David Cameron probably making the biggest political mistake of his generation, if not more, brought about this Brexit thing.
It does make assuaging the concerns of people much more difficult because you could, you know, honour any flagellate if it didn't interfere with the way you lived your life day in, day out.
Yes, Brexit, you've your analysis is quite accurate there. It was a reckless constitutional adventure that was informed or was not informed by any rational planning. It was an emotional electorate which surprised most commentators. And the lack of detail has blighted British politics since. And we have the opportunity now to be better economic arguments. To one say there are demographic changes which are coming and the north. Which are factual. This argument is going to come at us very, very quickly.
We have an opportunity to be better than the British political class and to prepare our society for what we consider as an inevitability. It's a constitutional outworking of the Good Friday agreement that there be a border pull on, whereas the British secretary of state may call a border pull at any stage. If it appears that a border pull is likely to be passed, they must call up border Poulsbo. And in the context whereby there's an inevitability to the event, it is incumbent upon us not to replicate the madness of British constitutional politics and to be better to prepare to examine all economic models, constitutional models, and really that work as much as civic society may be ahead of the political class of times, that work must be undertaken at government level.
All right. You know, in our analysis, we consider that the current government and Dublin should be, you know, putting in place the arrangements for such plans we consider. All right.
We'll have to leave it there because we are expecting details of a different plan, not a united Ireland plan, but a covid-19 plan in a moment or two as so nine Murphey, Belfast solicitor and secretary for Ireland's future. Thank you very much for joining us.
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