Photo credit: Louise Flanagan.
LAST week, the referendum posing the question of “Should UCDSU have a pro-unity stance on a United Ireland” passed with 63% of the vote. This means that UCDSU is now mandated to campaign for a United Ireland.
The Yes side received 1,995 votes, the No side received 1,167 overall. Yes won in all buildings. Sutherland School of Law had the highest count of No votes at 48%.
The petition to hold the referendum was organised by UCD Sinn Féin’s O’Connor/Humphreys Cumann. NUI Galway and UCC have also passed a referendum in their universities for their Students’ Union to campaign for a United Ireland and Trinity students will vote on the same issue this week. All four referendums were petitioned for by their respective Sinn Féin Societies.
In UCC, 63% of students voted for a United Ireland Stance. NUI Galway posed a more specific question to their student body than UCD did. 2,337 students (74% of valid poll) voted Yes to the question: “That NUI Galway Students’ Union supports the reunification of the island of Ireland and calls on the State to hold a national referendum on the question of such reunification.”
Even if a referendum were to happen in the Republic, Northern Ireland would not be bound by its results. As stated by The Belfast Agreement, the only people who could decide to a United Ireland are the people of Northern Ireland. It is very doubtful that universities in the Republic will be able to influence the people of Northern Ireland in any way.
Although, they are now mandated to do so, how these students’ union in the Republic will be able to campaign effectively for a United Ireland is unclear.
There has been growing interest in a United Ireland since the UK voted to leave the European Union. Northern Ireland voted to stay in the EU and before Brexit, interest in a United Ireland was at an all-time low.
According to a survey conducted by Ipsos Mori and carried out on behalf of BBC programme The View in August and September of 2016; of over 1000 people in Northern Ireland, 22% of people supported a United Ireland (up 5% from a 2013 survey). 33% of respondents said No on the questions should the government call a referendum on the Border, 52% said Yes and 15% said they didn’t know.
Along with the Trinity elections, this week is when British Prime Minister Teresa May will trigger article 50 and begin the process of leaving the European Union. There has been much speculation that Brexit could drive North and South apart. But many others see Brexit as something that could bring the two towards a United Ireland. Especially after the last Northern Ireland elections, Sinn Féin is only one seat behind the DUP and unionists no longer have the majority of seats in Stormont.
What universities in the Republic can do to sway anyone in Northern Ireland is very unclear. Elected C&C officer, Barry Murphy, gave no clear idea of how he will campaign on behalf of students on the issues he is mandated to campaign on and, very likely, a United Ireland will be the one he finds the hardest. Unlike UCDSU’s other mandated campaigns (on repealing the 8th amendment and lowering university fees), they have no clear direction of who to lobby or even what a United Ireland would mean let alone that it means speaking on behalf of people who, right now, are not citizens of the same country.