A leading nationalist politician and a Protestant with a unionist background gave unusual opinions for the communities they represent during a talk on Northern Ireland and the border.
Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) deputy leader Nichola Mallon warned that a border poll too soon could result in violence, and Protestant Frazer McCammond, a former member of the Alliance Party although with a unionist background, said Brexit would make him vote for Irish unity now.
Mallon said a 50 percent plus one majority in a border poll where Irish unity was not clearly mapped out would be a recipe for disaster.
Mallon, 38, from Belfast’s Ardoyne area and who has an honors degree in economics and politics from Trinity College, Dublin and an MA in comparative ethnic conflict from Queen's University Belfast, was speaking in Killough, Co. Down, on Saturday. She was addressing a conference on Northern Ireland’s place in a united Ireland.
The SDLP was once the biggest nationalist party in Northern Ireland until Sinn Fein took over the role in recent years.
Mallon said many people needed to be persuaded of the benefits of a reunified, reconciled Ireland, which “cannot be led by one party alone.”
“To be successful it needs plurality of contributions,” she said.
She would like a border poll to be called “when it can be won” and not during the Brexit process, as this would play on people’s fears.
“You need to show people clearly what they are voting for. Just calling a border poll and getting your 50 plus one is an absolute recipe for disaster. And I honestly believe and fear that it will actually erupt in violence,” she said.
McCammond, 60, from Dromore, Co. Down, who described himself as “a Protestant from a very unionist background” and “an Irishman first,” said that when he voted in favor of the Good Friday Agreement, he did not believe there would be any change to the constitutional position of Northern Ireland in his lifetime. However, he said that if there was a border poll on Irish unity, he would vote in favor.
“I believe that Brexit has changed that dynamic and there are Protestants like me who will vote for a united Ireland from a pragmatic point of view,” he said.
On a separate front, there was a hint of a break in the deadlock that has prevented efforts to resume a power-sharing administration in the North.
The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) welcomed comments from Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams indicating that republicans are committed to the restoration of devolution in Northern Ireland.
Adams told a republican commemoration event on Sunday that a deal to restore the Stormont executive was possible. He said his party was committed to the reinstitution of power-sharing in Northern Ireland.
Ex-DUP finance minister Simon Hamilton welcomed Adams’ “change of tone.” Hamilton said his party is holding talks with Sinn Fein this week.
Northern Ireland has effectively been without a devolved government since January. Its institutions collapsed amid a bitter row between the DUP and Sinn Fein about a botched green energy scheme.