SDLP calls for vote on United Ireland as Tories rule out joint rule with Dublin

Nathanael Williams

Tories under pressure from new call for reunification referendum in Northern Ireland

THE SOCIAL DEMOCRATIC AND LABOUR PARTY in Northern Ireland used its manifesto launch yesterday (Tuesday 30 May) to call for a border poll to decide whether the North should rejoin a united Ireland in the EU or stay within the UK.

Its call follows the political crisis that has emerged in the country since the election in March left the unionist vote share down and both the republican party Sinn Féin and the main unionist force the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) failing to come to form a power sharing administration in line with the Good Friday Agreement of 1999.

Launching its Westminster election manifesto in Belfast, the SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said a referendum on Irish unity would “need to happen after Brexit”.

The SDLP’s support for a border poll comes as a surprise as the party is considered on the moderate wing of the nationalist movement and has previously been cautious in its talk about a united Ireland poll.

“I am very clear that the requirements for a border poll are not remotely satisfied.”  James Brokenshire

Since last year’s EU referendum, Northern Ireland has found itself in a similar situation to Scotland having voted by 56 per cent to remain in the EU bloc yet is now, according to bussiness experts, facing economic turmoil resulting from border changes and possible damage to its agricultural sector through Brexit.

Eastwood said: “While others were waving banners, the SDLP made the prospect of a successful unity referendum much more possible because a Border poll is no longer solely the project of Irish nationalism but of pro-European internationalism.

“A unity referendum now has a much broader reach, offering us a return to the European Union as a sovereign country. That’s the kind of progress that’s made by MPs who turn up for work, not just wine receptions and lobbying lunches.”

“A unity referendum now has a much broader reach, offering us a return to the European Union as a sovereign country.” Colum Eastwood

In a speech to the party faithful, Eastwood said: “A DUP seat will only add to Tory numbers – a Sinn Féin seat won’t even get counted.”

This referred the fact that Sinn Féin, the bigger nationalist party in Northern Ireland, abstain from the House of Commons and do not take their seats. He rebuked the DUP as bowing to the “wishes of Mrs May and her hard Brexit agenda unquestionably.”

Because of DUP support for Tory Brexit, the SDLP leader also stressed the importance of voting for his party as an alternative to the nationalism of Sinn Féin, the DUP and Tories.

In response, the UK Secretary of State for Northern Ireland James Brokenshire launched the Tories’ Northern Ireland manifesto emphasising that the conditions for calling a referendum on a united Ireland were “not remotely satisfied”.

He said: “I remain satisfied on the basis of all reliable indicators of the continued support for the devolved administration, the principles and the structures and institutions that are underpinned within the Belfast Agreement (1998) and its successors, and I am very clear that the requirements for a border poll are not remotely satisfied.”

The Tory manifesto also ruled out any chance of joint rule by the UK and the Republic of Ireland in Northern Ireland if a new powersharing executive could not be formed after the UK General Election.

Picture courtesy of Colin McGrath

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