Hustings on Irish reunification preferendum takes place

The hustings took place on the Dining Hall steps this afternoon

The hustings on the Irish reunification campaign took place today at 2pm on the Dining Hall steps. Campaigning in the referendum started on March 9, with voting in the preferendum taking place tomorrow and Wednesday, March 14 and 15.

Two campaigns have begun within Trinity from groups supporting neutrality and reunification. The unity group are rallying on the basis of equal education, strengthened reproductive rights, no hard border controls and the cease of sectarian culture. Those supporting neutrality have outlined their stance based on representing all students both North and South of the border, as well as maintaining an environment of discussion on the issue.  

The neutrality campaign spoke first with 2nd Year Science student, Maeve McCann from Fermanagh describing her “nationalist background” but spoke of her unionist school and friends: “I came to Trinity to get away from that.” She continued that it was an “ideal spot [to] escape sectarianism” and spoke of her fear that the referendum would change the likelihood of Northern Irish students attending Trinity. McCann emphasised that she would not support border controls and emphasised that it was in the “long term interest that Trinity is a welcoming place for Northern Ireland students, including those from a unionist background”.

Olly Donnelly, a 4th year PPES student, explained that he had lived in West Belfast for his entire life and said: “I consider myself to be a nationalist in general.” Donnelly emphasised the rashness of the campaign, saying that “a border poll in the North doesn’t seem on the cards” and referred to a vote in favour of unity as a “grave mistake”. Donnelly also spoke at length that the vote should “reflect all students” and that the preferendum “will always alienate a large amount of people from one side or the other”. He concluded his speech by saying “we want a neutral ground for everyone in Trinity”.

When asked about the neutrality’s campaign position on students who wanted to see a united Ireland, Donnelly’s answer focused on division: “We understand that the border is a symbol of division.” Donnelly referenced the ever-changing political scene in Northern Ireland and the fact that the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) recently lost their veto on same sex marriage. “We are closer than ever in the North to overcoming those issues (access to abortion and same-sex marriage) and tensions. (The preferendum) jeopardises those issues rather than bringing them closer.”

When asked about whether nationalists in the North would feel left behind by a neutral vote, the neutrality side explained that it’s “unfair to say that they (the neutrality campaign) can’t be nationalist but want a neutral stance in Trinity”.

Carly Bailey spoke in favour of the unity campaign beginning with her background on the Cavan-Fermanagh border. Bailey is a mature student and a mother of two. She continued by saying that “before the Good Friday Agreement […] crossing the border was a traumatic experience”, and continued by saying that “a 20 minute journey could take up to two hours. I can’t and I won’t allow that to be normal for my children to grow up with.”

Bailey discussed the Good Friday Agreement and said that at the time “peace was all we wanted”. She said that “unfortunately I wouldn’t be standing up here if it wasn’t or Brexit”. Bailey noted the results of the Brexit vote in the North by saying that “the vast majority of the people voted to remain” and that “a soft order just isn’t good enough, the conversation is happening with or without Trinity College”.   

The first question session began when when Olly Donnelly of the neutrality campaign asked whether someone “can claim to be a nationalist while supporting the neutrality campaign”. The unity campaign responded by saying that the campaign aims to “engage people in the discussion […] this is something that is absolutely key”. They continued by saying that “much more can be done by supporting unity […] discussing it proactively instead of waiting”.

Bailey during the session commented on the neutrality campaign by saying that “Ireland has a really long history for not having uncomfortable conversations […] this is about being proactive rather than reactive with everybody regardless of their background”.

Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU) voted in their fifth Council in February to hold a preferendum to have a stance on the reunification of Ireland. The motion was proposed by Junior Sophister Psychology class rep Naomi Walshe and seconded by Cornelius Lenthe, Junior Sophister BESS class rep. The motion read : “Northern Ireland has never been closer to having a referendum. It’s fast becoming a student issue. Council mandates TCDSU to hold a preferendum to have a stance on the reunification of Ireland, with three options in the preferendum, these being neutrality, reunification or to oppose unification.”

Since TCDSU voted to hold a preferendum, University College Dublin (UCD), University College Cork (UCC) and the National University of Ireland, Galway (NUIG) students have all voted to support a reunified Ireland. The NUIG Students’ Union vote saw 74% of students supporting a united Ireland with a turn-out of 3,231 students, while UCC Students’ Union elections saw a turn-out of 3,949 student votes with a 63% vote in favour of unity. 63% of UCD students voted for a reunited Ireland.

Additional reporting by Niamh Lynch.

Seana Davis

Seana Davis is a fourth year Geology student and News Editor of Trinity News.