Tuesday 20 August 2019

Push for Irish reunification on the back of Brexit would repeat the mistakes of the past, warns SDLP’s Claire Hanna

Claire Hanna has criticised the SDLP’s partnership with Fianna Fail (Liam McBurney/PA)
Claire Hanna has criticised the SDLP’s partnership with Fianna Fail (Liam McBurney/PA)
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

Pushing for the reunification of Ireland on the back of Brexit would repeat the mistakes of the past century and trap an “unhappy minority”, the SDLP’s Claire Hanna has said.

The Belfast politician warned that a modern, pluralist new Ireland “will not be built on a narrow electoral win slipped through in a period of chaos”.

Speaking at the MacGill Summer School in Glenties, Co Donegal, Ms Hanna criticised political leaders for not looking to unite the nationalist and unionist communities.

She also questioned the reasoning being put forward for a united Ireland, suggesting the North is not currently an attractive acquisition.

READ MORE: Unionists fear losing identity in reunification

“In setting the tone for deepening North/South work, I believe that nationalism is unduly self-limiting by continued advocacy for Irish Unity as ‘the righting of an historic wrong’, and failing to create the conditions where the North would be an attractive (or even just plausible) proposition for the Republic in the event of a future unity poll,” Ms Hanna said.

“To put the foot hard on the pedal for reunification as a direct consequence of Brexit is to risk repeating the lasting, profound and mirror image mistake of the past, simply a rerun of the last century and of an unhappy minority trapped.”

According to the MLA, Brexit had left Anglo-Irish relations in a “parlous state”.

“For the North the history of the past three decades shows clearly that for solutions to have the confidence of all communities in the North, both governments must be cooperating in a meaningful way, and independently of political expediency practised by the UK government as is currently the case in its ‘confidence and supply’ arrangements with the DUP.”

Ms Hanna, who was the SDLP’s Brexit spokesperson before resigning the party whip over its partnership with Fianna Fáil, said it took two decades of engagement to achieve the Good Friday Agreement.

“Any change in the constitutional status of Northern Ireland isn’t going to be a 1997 Hong Kong type situation, where there was a defined date for a change of sovereignty and a neat ceremonial handing over of the flag.

"If the Brexit ‘nervous breakdown’ continues in the UK, we would have to be realistic about the capacity and willingness of the UK government to meaningfully engage on practical issues like continuing citizenship rights and pension contributions,” she said.

READ MORE: No deal Brexit would swallow extra money in the budget, UK chancellor warns Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt

Former vice-chair of the Northern Ireland Policing Authority Denis Bradley told the same debate that Brexit has thought people that “complex political issues are poorly served by simplistic slogans.

“It was becoming annoying listening to half-baked theories that nationalist people had given up their unity aspirations and  were now fully content within the new Northern Ireland or equally to hear the voice of dissident republicans continue the juvenile mantra that all would be well once the Brits had been forced out of Ireland,” he said.

Mr Bradley said a forum should be set up to discuss Irish unity because while the Irish government is “terrified” of mixing Brexit with unity, there is no longer a choice.

“Initially, it might not attract the unionist parties, but Brexit has shown that the business and farming communities of the north are seeking an outlet for their views. Where business goes, politics is likely to follow,” he said.

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