As the UK approaches Brexit, the question of what to do about the Irish border has become increasingly contentious. The “backstop” plan – which would keep the UK in a customs union with the EU until another solution was found – has proved deeply unpopular, not least because some believe it could lead to a united Ireland.
This raises the question of whether a referendum on Irish reunification might be necessary. Under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement, the Northern Ireland Secretary has the power to hold a referendum at any time if they believe there is public support for reunification. But is such a vote a good idea?
On the one hand, it could be argued that a border poll would be a democratic way of settling the matter. If the majority in Northern Ireland vote in favour of reunification, then that is the will of the people and it should be respected. It would also remove the uncertainty hanging over the border issue, which has caused significant anxiety for businesses and communities on both sides of the divide.
On the other hand, there are those who argue that a referendum would be inflammatory and could lead to violence. The Good Friday Agreement was hard-won and its fragile peace must be protected at all costs. A border poll risks re-opening old wounds and could lead to a return to the violence of the Troubles.
There are also practical issues to consider. The UK government is currently grappling with the logistics of Brexit and does not have the bandwidth to also deal with the possibility of Irish reunification. A border poll could also be seen as an unnecessary distraction from the real issues facing Northern Ireland, such as the economy, health and education.
So, what is the answer? Ultimately, the decision on whether to hold a border poll is one that must be made with great care. It is important that the peace and stability achieved under the Good Friday Agreement is not jeopardised by rushing into a decision that could have unforeseen consequences. Both sides must be willing to engage in constructive dialogue and work towards a mutually beneficial solution that ensures the continued peace and prosperity of Northern Ireland.