Saturday 20 July 2019

Outcome of UK election will be watched closely on these shores

Next week's General Electrion in the United Kingdom is possibly the most crucial for Irish interests since 1997 when Tony Blair and Labour came to power.

Back in 1997 the peace process was not fully mature, we hadn't the Good Friday Agreement, but the political process was well underway following the Downing Street Declaration signed by Prime Minister John Major and Taoiseach Albert Reynolds.

However it was clear from an Irish perspective that more progress would be made with a Labour government under the leadership of Tony Blair and with Mo Mowlam as Northern Ireland Secretary of State, than would be made under another Conservative led government which would have been more sympathetic to the unionist position.

Now in 2015 the next UK government could have a dramatic impact on our future on these shores.

Last year Scotland said no to independence which would have an knock-on effects for the future of Northern Ireland had the yes side won the day.

However the question of Scottish independence has not gone away and if Labour and the SNP form the next government, a second referendum on Scottish independence will be back on the table.

The independence campaign and the momentum it created seems to have cemented the rise of the SNP in Scotland and with that the collapse of Labour, while Scotland seems a wasteland for Conservative MPs with just one Tory MP out of 59 Scottish MP's in the last parliament.

The polls have Labour and the Conservatives neck and neck, with predictions of a second hung parliament with another coalition government the most likely outcome.

While a Labour/SNP government could re-ignite the Scottish independence question which will have consequences in Northern Ireland if ever carried in a referendum, should the Conservatives and David Cameron return to power and Downing Street a far greater challenge for Ireland will lie ahead.

Cameron has promised a referendum on whether the UK should stay or leave in the European Union in the lifetime of the next government.

Opinion polls show that a UK exodus from the European Union could well follow that referendum and that would have profound effects on our relationship with our nearest neighbour.

For instance would we see the return of border crossing points and the return of Customs posts and clearance facilities that were such a feature of daily life in this town for decades.

Whatever the outcome of next week's UK General Election it seems certain they will face huge political decisions down the line, be it a second Scottish independence referendum or an in/out referendum on the EU.

Either way we will be watching closely.

Irish Independent