The editorial headline (May 31) can be construed in two ways – one is ‘DUP voted for Brexit and not for Dublin’ or ‘DUP voted for Brexit, Dublin did not’. I presume your interpretation is the latter. Both are factually correct. Your narrative of events is in parts correct but there is no evidence that the £450,000 donation towards the Metro advertisement in any way affected the size of the pro-Brexit vote. Metro is a free newspaper principally circulating in the London area, which returned a ‘remain’ vote. To argue that the advertisement “may well have influenced the final result….” is highly unlikely. If every reader of the newspaper (1.25 million) had suddenly switched to ‘leave’ that wouldn’t have altered the final figure of a 1.3 million leave majority to change the result. If you consider the distribution map of Metro in relation to the distribution map of Remainers there is huge overlap. In other words, Metro is mainly read by Remainers.
You argue that the DUP voted “against the proposal” (Mrs May’s ‘backstop’). In fact, the DUP’s 10 votes were never going to change the result of the five votes against the government between January 15 2019 and October 11 2019 – voting varied from 45 against to 230 against. The DUP never had any influence on the result of the negotiations. The idea that they could have obtained a ‘soft’ Brexit based on Mrs May’s backstop by voting differently is no more than nationalist fantasy.
Your reference to “a broad nationalist consensus” over the risks associated with a “hard Irish border” is simply a threat of nationalist violence put forward by Bertie Ahern, Simon Coveney and Leo Varadkar, among others, and again does not bear close examination.
The word ‘hard’ as applied to the border is inappropriate. It refers to the days when the border had to be protected militarily against attacks mounted from the Republic’s side and the very real instances of terrorists using it as a safe haven. Those days have long gone and have nothing to do with Brexit.
‘De-militarisation’ followed the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement over 20 years ago. There has not been a hard border since then.
There are no known instances of republicans attacking Irish customs posts. All the attacks were against the British customs posts.
The only customs post needed would be EU ones on the southern side of the border as a protection of their Single Market.
Given the Irish people’s unconditional love affair with Europe and the EU, how likely is it that Irishmen would attack other Irishmen whose job was to operate checks designed solely to protect the EU Single Market? Even more so, how likely is it that they would receive any support from Irish people?
It is worth making the point that the DUP has achieved something no other party in Northern Ireland, southern Ireland, UK, US or western Europe has done – they have shared power for many years with a political party which supported the use of violence for political ends.
Another wasted opportunity
The just published ‘Fair Start’ report on educational underachievement is yet another wasted opportunity to tackle our failing education system where in 2019 56.5 per cent of Protestant pupils and 46.8 per cent of Catholic pupils on free school meals failed to gain five good GCSE A* – C including English and maths and 30 per cent of our adults have either very basic or no formal qualifications. We also have the lowest proportion of adults in the UK with higher education or degree level qualifications. But how could it be any different when education minister Peter Weir excluded academic selection from the terms of reference of the reporting panel. It reminds me of the Fawlty Towers sketch where Basil is expecting German guests and the mantra to all staff is “don’t mention the war”.
The minister described the report as “one of the most important reports I have overseen” and yet not one of their eight key proposals makes reference to the huge impact that a socially integrated education system can make to the life chances of all children and more particularly children from disadvantaged backgrounds. We have known now for more than 60 years since the Coleman Report (Equality of Educational Opportunity) that who you go to school with matters a lot, almost as much as your family background. Being born poor imposes a disadvantage but attending a school with large number of low income classmates presents a second independent challenge.
As Mark Langhammer of the Natioal Education Union has pointed out, the report “misses the elephant in the room”. Northern Ireland’s education system isn’t just the most socially segregated in the UK, it is the most socially segregated education system in the developed world, and it’s this social apartheid in the post-primary sector where more advantaged children go to one type of school and those less advantaged go to another that has led to the high concentrations of poverty in too many of our secondary schools and the long tail of underachievement that is the end result. These are not just cold statistics, they are stories of wasted lives and children never being able to fulfill their real potential just because they are unlucky enough to be born into poverty and disadvantage.
When Peter Weir first became education minister in 2016 he couldn’t understand why our primary school pupils were doing so well in international tests and our post-primary students were no better than mediocre. The then president of the Ulster Teachers Union, Avril Hall Callaghan, had this to say: “There is no mystery. The main thing that separates children in primary and secondary education here is academic selection. Therein lies the solution to the minister’s conundrum. It is a scandal that this legislature insists for the most disingenuous of reasons to continue with the apalling apartheid of academic selection.”
Downpatrick, Co Down
Pluralism is possible
June 4 marked the 32nd anniversary of the deaths of hundreds of pro-democracy students in Tiananmen Square in Beijing. The decision on military intervention was taken by the Communist Party Politburo Standing Committee, it is said, by majority vote, approved by a margin of just one member.
As happens so often in politics, the leaders choose the question, a vote is held and on most occasions, the question is the answer. Thus it was with Napoleon in his three referendums; Hitler had four such plebiscites; David Cameron’s third was the Brexit referendum, while Boris Johnson had his ‘get Brexit done’ majority vote in the Commons. Such top-down politics often has little to do with ‘the will of the people’ or the will of parliament, more with the will of the ruler.
It’s time we reformed the 2,500-year-old binary vote. After all, when choosing our representatives, we would not want a North Korean type of election, ‘Candidate X, yes-or-no?’ Both in parliaments and in referendums, however, decision-making is binary: ‘Option X, yes-or-no?’ or at best, ‘Option X or option Y?’ But just as multi-candidate elections are possible under a range of voting procedures, so too decisions can be taken in multi-option and even preferential ballots.
Director, de Borda Institute, Belfast BT14