David Campbell’s remarks were largely echoed by leading economics commentator Prof Graham Gudgin, who likewise said that unionists would easily romp to victory in the event of any border poll.
Their comments come after a poll in the Irish News this week showed the proportion of people backing Irish unity is comfortably below one-third.
This was followed by Sinn Fein appearing to distance themselves from any immediate push for all-island unity.
At a speech to the SF ard fheis in November 2019, Michelle O’Neill had said: “The referendum must happen in the next five years. Let the people have their say!”
By December 2020, this appeared to have changed; at that time, overall party leader Mary Lou McDonald said “I believe we can have our referendum, win it, and win it well in the course of this decade” (in other words, by 2030).
Asked about Irish unity this week, Mrs O’Neill said: “I don’t think people woke up this morning thinking about that. I think people woke up this morning around the pressure they feel right now. So I’m focused on the cost-of-living crisis.”
Sinn Fein was asked on Wednesday by the News Letter what its latest stance is on when a border poll should take place.
There was no reply.
‘HERE IS THE BLUNT REALITY...’:
Mr Campbell’s group the LCC, of which he is chairman, was formed in 2015.
It brings together figures connected with the UDA, UVF, and Red Hand Commando (though Mr Campbell – an ex-UUP chairman – has no terror ties himself).
He told the News Letter: “I’ve always been bemused by Sinn Fein’s repeated calls for a border poll because, using any sort of parameter or matrix, it’s never going to succeed.
“The blunt reality is I don’t know why any unionist has been running scared of a border poll.
“I would’ve challenged Sinn Fein to one tomorrow if it was in my gift.
“I’ve felt as a unionist we’ve absolutely nothing to fear from a border poll.”
If such a referendum was held, then he believes another one should not be permitted for perhaps another 30 to 40 years, so that “we’re not harnessing the next generation with this nonsense”.
He added: “If the government were minded to call a poll, I’d have no issue having one.
“To my mind, if it puts the issue to bed for that length of time, bring it on.
“Who in their right mind, especially now, is going to swap the fifth largest economy in the world for about the 60th – and an economy that can’t so much as sneeze without permission from the European Central Bank?
“It just beggars belief that there’d be some sort of serious argument for a united Ireland.”
‘SENTIMENTALITY GOES OUT THE WINDOW WHEN FACING HIGHER TAXES’:
Such sentiments were also echoed by Professor Gudgin.
He is an economist who holds posts at both Cambridge University’s Business School and Ulster University, and used to be an adviser to First Minister David Trimble.
He was asked how a referendum about transferring NI to Dublin control would fare south of the border.
“The true costs are very large,” Prof Gudgin said.
“Most people are just ordinary people trying to get through their lives and look after their families.
“If you suddenly suggest a large increase in taxation to them, sentimentality tends to go out of the window.”
According to the Financial Times, during 2018-19, NI cost the UK some £9.4bn (that’s the difference between money spent and tax collected).
He added: “If you look at what [Sinn Fein] have said over the years, it’s always ‘we demand a border poll – but not quite yet’. It’s never quite yet, for the obvious reason that they can see the poll results like everybody else.
“There’s no chance of Irish unity majority. All of this is bluster really. But on the other hand, if you’re Sinn Fein what else do you do? You keep banging the drum.”
Meanwhile yesterday, Alliance leader Naomi Long also said the cost of living and NHS were the main election issues.
In addition, she called for reform of the whole way NI is governed, saying that “it is unsustainable to have a government where any one party can take their ball home and stop play”.
And looking ahead to the coming election, she said: “If the DUP don’t want to be part of the government, then it should be possible for them to go into opposition and for those of us who are willing to serve the public in government to get on with the job.”
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