“A neutral vote is a vehicle for Unionism”
On Tuesday and Wednesday of next week Trinity students will be asked to take a position on reunification of Ireland. Two campaigns have arisen around the yes campaign and a vote for the SU to take a neutral stance. The neutral campaign claims that the SU taking a position will be divisive and that to do so would alienate Northern students. However, a neutrality vote is a resounding message to students in the north and living in border counties that we don’t care about the issues that face them.
Only a yes vote can signify that the border set in place, and sectarian divide implemented after partition, will be opposed and that a country of all beliefs and creeds will be represented. The battle for women’s reproductive rights will be massively bolstered by a united Ireland, and the same can be said for LGBTQ liberation. Contrary to the rhetoric from the neutrality campaign, it is the border itself that divides and alienates minorities and peoples.
A Sectarian Failure
“Ulster Unionism and the Northern state are showing indelible signs of decay”
Northern Ireland has failed to deliver for the people of the 6 counties. Catholics and Protestants live in sectarian communities with integration receiving only symbolic lip service. This is not an aberration of British rule on the Island but a direct corollary. Only by dividing the communities and workers of its colonies has any empire ruled. This reality is one that was understood intimately well by James Connolly, who predicted in 1914 that partition on the island of Ireland would create “a carnival of reaction, North and South”, putting the brakes on emerging working class unity in the interest of capital. In 1919, a year before the partition of Ireland was instituted by the Government of Ireland act, Catholic and Protestant workers in Belfast brought the economy of Ireland’s industrial capital to a standstill demanding a shorter working week, better pay and improved working conditions for all.
This unity is what is possible under socialism. Inversely, socialism is not possible without working class unity, a fact acknowledged by both Connolly and the Orange unionists represented by people like Edward Carson. In Ulster, Orangeism attempted to forge a false consciousness within the protestant working class by exploiting and corrupting the identity of the Protestant population. In 1919, Orangeism was not enough to overcome the surging class consciousness in Belfast; Catholic and Protestant workers saw that they were being exploited by the Empire and its servants in Ulster’s industry. Workers became acutely aware of the power they had in unity and resisted not only robber bosses but the false consciousnesses of orangeism and traditional Catholic nationalism.
Sadly, representatives of the ascendancy and the emerging Irish Bourgeoisie conspired with the British Empire to introduce partition via the Government of Ireland Act 1920. This act took six of the nine counties of Ulster, the counties with the highest protestant populations and formed a Frankenstein, sectarian statelet, estranged from the rest of the island. The purpose at this stage was clear, to deal a heavy blow to the powerful Irish Working Class in the revolutionary unions and in the anti-imperialist republican movement, by divorcing twenty six counties from the economic centre of the island while at the same time, allowing the protestant ruling class in the North East to retain control of industry. The newborn Northern statelet would stop at nothing to divide its population; disenfranchising the nationalist minority of the working class whilst providing paltry privileges to appease their unionist brethren, stoking the fires of sectarian division.
In the South, solidarity with the workers movement was broken by the anti-socialist Catholic Church and the obliging ruling class of the fledgling petit-bourgeois state. Unsurprisingly, the oppressive nature of the Northern State gave birth to a resistance, emerging first in the peaceful Civil Rights movement and then in the republican movement, following tyranny perpetrated on the nationalist community by Orange mobs in collusion with the state. In the space of fifty years, a sharp division was drawn between communities that had once struggled together in the Union movement. Emanating from the artificial division drawn by the ascendancy of Ulster were hate, conflict and hopelessness.
Today’s post Good Friday Agreement Northern Ireland offers a grim prospect for ordinary working class people, especially young protestant men whose educational attainment rates are some of the poorest on the island. The new peace has led to prosperity for the unionist and nationalist middle class that SF/DUP now represent. To understand the peace process you have to see that the people who have gained the most from it are the educated professional classes, and their children, on both sides of the sectarian divide. There is a shared interest among the middle classes in defending what they have gained — on the back of struggle by others. Working class unionists and republicans feel left behind by this set up, and the continued existence of Stormont will forever perpetuate this divide.
Each side tells their community that they have won, while implementing Tory austerity and cut corporation tax, all with the backdrop of increasing childhood poverty and the chilling fact that 60% of Northern Irish households don’t have £100 in the case of an emergency. Since partition the north east of this island has undergone a transformation from a developed industrial region to a poverty-stricken statelet with reactionary politics resting on sectarian institutional foundations.
“Peace is shallow and uncertain on this island, if we want to solidify peace for our generation, we must seize this issue and engage with it directly”
Despite a strong desire to remain within the EU displayed by the people of the North, a Brexit strategy is being pursued where immigration and trade policy independence are at odds with the demands of Brussels; making the prospect of a soft border almost certainly untenable. The imposition of a hard border would include southern border control, British Army and EU Frontex forces. Such an unholy trifecta of forces will only act to devastate the border regions and increase the risk of a return to conflict. The history of these border outposts is etched into the memories of communities in blood and flames. The British outposts were nestled among residential areas, knowing that their sabotage would endanger local civilians. This tactic was also adopted by Saddam Hussein in the second gulf war and is a history that is very raw to this day.
A neutrality vote is blindly ignoring this prospect and is a loud message to the students affected that we don’t want to take a side. This is a political issue that must be deliberated on, students must contribute to the national debate and only a vote for unity can do this in a progressive manner. The border is a moving issue at the moment, it would be unwise for us as young people not to take a stance in the debate around it. Peace is shallow and uncertain on this island, if we want to solidify peace for our generation, we must seize this issue and engage with it directly. Irish unity presents an opportunity for all young people on the island of Ireland to plough a new furrow; a new era of peace, equality and prosperity.
Imperialism on our doorstep
“As long as Ireland is partitioned the natural beauty and environment is under constant threat from British capitalism”
Many within the halls of the GMB and college newsrooms would rightfully condemn the atrocities of imperialism and colonial plunder worldwide. The Trinity liberal happily reads Chomsky, Naomi Klein, and Arundhati Roy and revels in their enlightenment and righteousness. Surely they would have marched for civil rights in the 60s in Selma, and took to the streets of Paris to protest the Algerian war. However, a great failure of this liberal atmosphere in Trinity (and in the South) has been to imagine the continued partition and British administration of the 6 counties as an idiosyncratic quarrel whereby two communities could never get along after a fair deal was struck after the war of independence.
The direct colonial intervention from Westminster is whitewashed in this narrative. Fracking drilling is a major goal of British Gas giants; the resources of this island are not safe from these imperial ambitions. Despite preliminary resistance to drilling, Northern Irish Water has had to shut down three water reservoirs in Antrim. Being a deprived area, Northern Ireland is desperate for jobs and industry and it can be imagined this initial resistance to fracking will be steam-rolled when billion pound companies begin to offer employment to areas.
As long as Ireland is partitioned the natural beauty and environment is under constant threat from British capitalism. Trinity boasts a strong environmentalist core, with Fossil Free TCD succeeding in its goal last year. Environmentalists should vote for unity to achieve an all Ireland divestment network and prevent British heavy industry from destroying the Irish environment. Human devastation is another result of British imperialism on the island. There are and have been numerous human rights abuses perpetrated in the North, past and present by the British state and its “security services”. Internment without trial still takes place in the North and evidence from paid perjurers continues to be used as to convict people; Tony Taylor, a republican from Derry, has endured 23 hours in a Maghaberry cell every day for the last year without a trial or due process. This lies in direct contravention of the 10th article of the UN human rights act.
Legacy tribunal after legacy tribunal has been disbanded due to bias from Stormont and a lack of compliance by Crown forces. The torturers’ are being protected, with patriotic jingoism being used as the justification. It took almost 40 years for the British State to merely admit its culpability in the murder of 14 unarmed civilians in Derry on Bloody Sunday; there have been and will not be any convictions for this atrocity or the many others like it. A student union that cares about human rights and dignity should strive for this justice to be achieved.
We can not hope the British will investigate themselves for the crimes they have committed, as is evidenced by Lord Stevens in the case of the murder of Pat Finucane whereby British forces colluded with the RUC to burn evidence crucial to convicting sectarian killers. Only a united Ireland can create an atmosphere where justice is delivered to the victims of sectarian murder and state sanctioned torture.
“As is highlighted in the case of Queen’s University Belfast, the neutral campaign offered a sanitary and inoffensive visage for reactionary unionism”
Despite being adorned with trimmings of liberal etiquette, the neutral vote is a vehicle for unionism. As is highlighted in the case of Queen’s University Belfast, the neutral campaign offered a sanitary and inoffensive visage for reactionary unionism, furthering the divisions between people on this island. Knowing that people would outright reject a call to oppose reunification, the next best thing to prevent reunification and silence the majority of the voices on the Island would be to call for a neutral vote. Nationalists who believe in a united Ireland but don’t want to isolate unionists are politically naive and playing into the hands of the unionists by campaigning for a neutral vote. A vote for neutrality will place the issue of Irish unity on the backburner and display our collective apathy for the future of our Northern peers.
A vote for neutrality is not a vote to keep the conversation going, it is one to deprive it of oxygen before it can breathe. A vote for neutrality is not one to prevent alienation of unionist students, it actually perpetuates it by refusing to take a stand against a sectarian northern state. The idea that a student union shouldn’t get involved in politics is becoming an increasingly untenable position to hold. Students are making an impact on questions of national significance like repealing the 8th and gay marriage. With the issue of the border reemerging following the Brexit vote, young people must take a stance or face frightful consequences.
Peace is fragile on this island, if we want it to continue, we must be willing to engage with the political reality we are faced with. Ulster Unionism and the Northern state are showing indelible signs of decay; partition has failed, what comes next is uncertain. A vote for Irish unity gives us the opportunity to plough a furrow of our own. There is no future but what we make; we can create an inclusive republic based on the principles of women’s liberation, LGTBQ liberation, socialist distribution of wealth to ameliorate poverty, and working class triumph over sectarianism. We can recreate the unity seen in 1919 and we can initiate this process by adopting a pro-unity stance within our student union.
Words by Conachúir Ó Rádaigh and Eoin Ó Murchú, and represent their own views, not those of the official Unity campaign.
Latest posts by Eoin Ó Murchú (see all)
- “A neutral vote is a vehicle for Unionism” - March 14, 2017
- A prescription for our ailing two-tier health system - April 6, 2016
- The language of recovery - February 18, 2016