The EU’s Ireland problem

A Northern Ireland border poll could expose the democratic illegitimacy of the entire European project.

Patrick Mallen

Topics Politics

The Eurozone, like the EU itself, defies democracy. Its governance has been rigged to ensure that no economic model other than that determined by the larger, more powerful member states is possible. No Keynesian interventionism. No socialist nationalisation. No model, that is, other than the EU’s preferred ‘neoliberal’ one – an economic approach, that is, for which there is no democratic legitimacy.

This absence of democratic legitimacy is potentially explosive. If a sincere, principled critique of the democratic illegitimacy for the Eurozone project were to become the focus of European politics, it would have the power to destroy the authority of almost the entire European political class. It would also trigger an economic and banking crisis across the continent.

Yet what few seem to realise is that we are far closer to this scenario than many might think. For there is one event that really could expose the democratic illegitimacy of the Euro: a Northern Ireland border poll – a chance, post-Brexit, for Northern Ireland’s electorate to vote on the unification of Ireland.

Why? Because, first, and most obviously, a united Ireland would entail Northern Ireland adopting the Euro. Secondly, Unionists know how politically incendiary this will be, and they will make it central to a campaign against a united Ireland. Unionists’ critique will be uninhibited and unsparing, ranging from drawing attention to the Euro’s detrimental effect on prices, mortgages and wages, to exposing how it has brutalised the Eurozone’s poorer members, such as Greece. Their campaign will drive home both how the Eurozone has worked against European solidarity and, above all, how it lacks all democratic legitimacy.

The question of democratic legitimacy allows Unionists to contrast their commitment to democracy with its potential absence in a united Ireland subject to the economic demands of the Euro. Unionists and other principled democrats can also arrogate to their cause the language of Ireland’s civil-rights movement of 50 years ago – from the ‘gerrymandering’ of Europe’s economic and political system, and its ‘curtailment of civil and political rights’, to EU ‘neo-imperialism’ – to reveal the Eurozone’s truly anti-democratic character.

Is Irish political discourse, dominated by the shallow edicts of self-styled progressives, even capable of summoning up the intellectual rigour to debate honestly the democratic legitimacy of the Euro? Certainly, any talk of pushing for reform of the EU will be scrutinised like never before. And as long as the EU and the Eurozone remain unreformed, the arguments for a united Ireland will be fundamentally compromised.

More challenging still, if Irish nationalists admit that a united Ireland subject to Eurozone diktat is a fundamentally worse democratic proposition than remaining within the UK, then Eurozone membership becomes the overriding question Irish nationalism needs to address. Without addressing it, the case for a united Ireland is undermined.

But it seems unlikely that either Sinn Fein or the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP), the most committed advocates of a united Ireland, will be able or willing to address the anti-democratic nature of the EU. So far they have shown no willingness to deviate from support for the EU, and have dutifully supported the EU’s proposal for a post-Brexit backstop.

This creates a vacancy in Irish politics for a united-Ireland movement committed to the democratic rights of the Irish people. Could an insurgent populist movement that recognises the democratic element in Unionism offer Unionists a unifying vision of a democratic, united Ireland?

Were principled democrats to lay out before the Northern Irish people the democratic fraud of the Euro, and the people then consciously rejected the Euro on democratic grounds – a rejection made infinitely more vivid and compelling by uniting both democratic Unionists and democratic nationalists – then that truly would represent an existential threat to the European Union. It would unleash arguments that struck at the anti-democratic core of the EU. And it could inspire others.

Dare nationalists risk all this? Not just the holding of a border poll and losing it. I also mean the risk that even campaigning for a border poll – the cause of a united Ireland – would put the democratic credentials of united Irelanders under the most fierce of spotlights. Are they democrats at all? It is a question that the self-righteous lifestyle liberals of Ireland, marked out by their self-serving Europeanism, haven’t even begun to consider seriously.

The backstop may well be dead. But the intensifying effect it has had on Northern Irish politics will persist. And it means the question of the EU will define the political realities of the united-Ireland debate long into the future. What an irony it will be if the upshot of Irish collusion with the UK’s Remain establishment in the creation of the backstop, designed to frustrate the British people’s desire for democratic self-governance, ended up destroying for a generation or more any prospect of a united Ireland.

Patrick Mallen is a writer.

Picture by: Getty

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.


Winston Stanley

24th September 2019 at 11:54 pm

F the English and f the Irish and F the Judaeo-British state

Palestine must be free

Winston Stanley

26th September 2019 at 9:49 pm

That was a JOKE thread.

Even so, no more posting drunk.

Winston Stanley

24th September 2019 at 11:23 pm

Listen to me you heroes and it wont take long

Winston Stanley

24th September 2019 at 11:10 pm

No surrender to the British capitalist state

All hail our majesty
Our King Jah Rasta Fari

Winston Stanley

24th September 2019 at 10:54 pm

Winston Stanley

24th September 2019 at 10:46 pm

The British State entirely intends to ignore what has happened over the last 50 years but we are not going to do that.

Winston Stanley

24th September 2019 at 10:50 pm

we is the /

come and f9ight wwith mme

Winston Stanley

24th September 2019 at 10:52 pm

Winston Stanley

24th September 2019 at 9:44 pm

Coom oot ye black and tan and tell you wife how you won medal and how the / made you run away

Winston Stanley

24th September 2019 at 10:08 pm

As I was roaming on a summer day, no surrender to British State

Winston Stanley

24th September 2019 at 10:34 pm

We is orthodox, we is catholic and we is protestant

But we is not entirely insane

We is the star of the county down

Bear Mac Mathun

24th September 2019 at 7:45 am

One could observe that had the Parliament in Westminster respected its own Irish Homerule Act (1914) rather than crumbling to the elitist and treasonous Curragh Mutineers, then this impasse would not exist.

Perhaps that should be a warning for what might happen next.

Philip Humphrey

24th September 2019 at 7:25 am

First sensible analysis I’ve read about this. Remainers have taken it as a given that Northern Ireland would vote to re-unite, but given the reality of joining the Eurozone, that becomes a lot less clear. Same goes for Scottish independence, if the latter is tagged with immediately giving away independence to the EU and ultimately joining the Eurozone, it may well become a lot less attractive. If Britain gets the clean Brexit its electorate clearly voted for, and starts to prosper as I firmly believe it would, it could become a beacon for all those depressed Eurozone states.

Michael Duffy

23rd September 2019 at 10:04 pm

This post seems to ignore the existence of People before Profit who support a UI and Brexit, losing popularity because of the later (as well as the minute national party). It wrongly assumes that Ireland’s liberal establishment are partial to a UI. It also seems critical of the Irish government for doing their job better than their UK counterparts in protecting their nation’s interests, as well as seeming a little too enthusiastic about the supposedly principled democratic nature of Unionism. Furthermore winning over soft nationalists with a Eurosceptic argument against a UI is one of the most bizarre notions i’ve ever come across on this website which really says something

Winston Stanley

23rd September 2019 at 6:55 pm

Oh dear. This article comes across as the all-or-nothing approach of dogmatic fanctionalism. “My way or the highway.”

The programme is one of Europe-wide communist revolution rather than UI. UI is not an end in itself there, and a border poll is to be used simply to press for a Europe-wide revolution, UI be damned.

“A united Ireland subject to Eurozone diktat is a fundamentally worse democratic proposition than remaining within the UK.”

He actually wants to subvert a border poll and effectively to collaborate with Unionists to fight against UI in a border poll. He tries to lay out for Unionists the arguments against EU to use in a border poll against UI.

All that really matters in border poll is that Republicans outvote Unionists, any other issues can be approached after that. If you really, really do not want UI then try to tie it to a mixture of Irexit and Marxist-Leninism.

“What an irony it will be if the upshot of Irish collusion with the UK’s Remain establishment in the creation of the backstop, designed to frustrate the British people’s desire for democratic self-governance, ended up destroying for a generation or more any prospect of a united Ireland.”

> Euroscepticism is a minority view in Ireland, with opinion polls between 2016 and 2019 indicating between 70% and 90% support for continued membership of the European Union (EU).[1]

In February 2018, a poll by Amarách Research of 1000 voters indicated 79% support for EU membership and only 10% support for an “Irexit”.[23]

A poll by European Movement Ireland in May 2018 indicated over 90% support for continued EU membership.[1]

Poll results published by Sky News in February 2019 indicated that, in the event of a no-deal Brexit, 81% of the Irish people polled “would cut economic ties with the UK rather than with the EU”.[24]

A Eurobarometer poll conducted across the EU in March 2019 showed that if a referendum on EU membership were held tomorrow, 83% of people in Ireland would vote to remain. This is the second highest result in the EU, with only the Netherlands ranking higher.[25] (Wiki)

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