Remainers are insulting Northern Ireland to caricature it as forever standing on the precipice of violence

Remainers are insulting Northern Ireland to caricature it as forever standing on the precipice of violence

Remainers are doing something interesting. They have proven Oscar Wilde wrong. Wilde, a pupil of Protora School in Enniskillen, proclaimed: “There is only one thing in life worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.” The plain wrong interjections by many Remain supporters and commentators about the Northern Ireland peace process and leaving the European Union make even ardent unionists wish they would go back to ignoring us.

The treatment of Northern Ireland by Remainers has been misguided from the beginning. Remain managed to lose more support in Northern Ireland over the course of the campaign that in any other part of the UK (in defence of Ulster’s Remain campaigners, they were hampered by poor direction and messaging from the national campaign).  

Remain began with a thumping 70% Remain to 30% Leave lead and Vote Leave’s private polling confirmed this. The polling also predicted the best possible result was a narrow win for Remain of 51% v 49%. With an Assembly election in Northern Ireland effectively truncating the referendum campaign to six weeks and many political activists spent from the Assembly election campaign, achieving such a perfect storm result was unlikely. The assessment I gave to Vote Leave HQ as Director in Northern Ireland was that 60% to 40% was achievable. In the end, with remain missteps and a committed band of Leave campaigners, it ended up 56% Remain to 44% Leave with 8 of the 18 constituencies having a Leave majority.  

As the campaign in Northern Ireland progressed, Leave was edging forward in Northern Ireland but no surge. This changed when Tony Blair and John Major flew in to speak at the Magee Campus in Londonderry. The message of the event can be summarised as “Vote Remain or the peace process gets it”.

Each day during the campaign I started my working day checking the campaign engagement system. An average day had 20-30 sign-ups. The morning after the Blair/Major intervention over 300 people had signed up. A surge in support and intensity of support began that day and was sustained until referendum day.

Remain had essentially argued that peace was the possession of one political community, nationalists, and unsurprisingly unionists did not respond positively to either the threat, the dismissal of their views or their dispossession from the peace process. Equally, as relatively low nationalist turnout demonstrated, even the average nationalist voter didn’t view the threat as credible.  

The lack of credibility has been borne out by the facts. Thankfully there has been no surge in dissident terrorist attacks. In fact, the reverse has happened with one of the dissident groups declaring a ceasefire. Just a few weeks ago Óglaigh na hÉireann (ONH) stated:

“…at this time the environment is not conducive to armed conflict.”

It is disturbing that dissident republicans can work this out but it appears that some mainland Remainers can’t.

The path of peace has not been easy in Northern Ireland and it will continue to have its trials and tribulations. However, to present unionists and nationalists as forever standing on the precipice of a return to large scale terrorist campaigns and civil disturbances is insulting and shows an ignorance of how far we have travelled down that path.