Government has no policy on Irish border poll: victims’ campaigner

Victims' campaigner Raymond McCord outside the High Court in Belfast
Victims' campaigner Raymond McCord outside the High Court in Belfast

A victims’ campaigner taking legal action over holding a border poll has accused the British government of a policy failure on the biggest decision since Northern Ireland’s formation.

Raymond McCord also called on new Secretary of State Karen Bradley to clarify the terms and conditions for calling a referendum on Irish unity.

Following a hearing at the High Court in Belfast on Wednesday he said: “I want her to declare her hand on the issue.

“It is quite obvious that the British government’s policy on a border poll is that they haven’t got one.

“This is the biggest decision since the formation of Northern Ireland and no such policy is in place.”

The staunch unionist is mounting separate challenges in Belfast and Dublin over the current provisions for going to the public on the constitutional issue.

His case against the gavernment questions the legality and transparency of current provisions for holding a border poll.

Under the 1998 Good Friday Agrement a referendum can be called if the secretary of state believes a majority of people in Nothern Ireland no longer want to remain part of the United Kingdom.

Mr McCord, an outspoken critic of loyalist paramilitaries since a UVF gang beat his son Raymond Jnr to death in 1997, is not pressing for such a poll.

But the Belfast man believes authority for calling such a significant ballot should not rest with one individual.

Insisting his action is an attempt to take the “fear factor” out of politics, he also claims the current criteria is too vague and undermines the agreement.

During the latest court hearing counsel confirmed the government’s position remains the same since Mrs Bradley took over from James Brokenshire.

Tony McGleenan QC said: “It’s not the case that the new secretary of state has made a new decision about this, although no doubt she will keep the matter under review.”

Following submissions the judge, Sir Paul Girvan, listed the case again in March for further arguments on the scope of the challenge.

Mr McCord has already been granted leave at the High Court in Dublin to pursue similar judicial review proceedings against the Irish state, taoiseach, minister for foreign affairs and attorney general.

Outside court he stressed: “This has to be taken out of the hands of one individual, and can’t be determined by the political agendas of Sinn Fein and the DUP.”