As a trade off unionism could agree to stay in customs union for 20 years if nationalism agrees to no border poll in that time

Northern Ireland is currently short on stability.

By The Newsroom
Thursday, 24th May 2018, 8:47 pm
Updated Friday, 8th June 2018, 8:48 am
Northern Ireland might be uniquely positioned to satisfy investment needs for quantifying risk and stablity, long before the conclusion of the Brexit negotiations.
Northern Ireland might be uniquely positioned to satisfy investment needs for quantifying risk and stablity, long before the conclusion of the Brexit negotiations.

It lacks political stability and it lacks economic stability. And there is no doubt that economic prosperity is founded on stability and that sustained economic prosperity will do more than anything else to ease social and political tensions in our region.

Some might think we’re chugging along alright without a government — the sky hasn’t fallen in — and maybe they’re right. But the nations and regions of the world at the forefront of prosperity and progress aren’t content with just chugging along.

They aggressively and selfishly seek out new markets and economic opportunities for their citizens.

The barrister and former Ulster Unionist candidate Rodney McCune

They take political advantage and long-term strategic, political and economic decisions. And in many ways they run their countries like businesses.

Many other places in the world would see the real opportunity in Brexit for Northern Ireland — potentially having a foot in both camps. But like many unionists I’m naturally concerned that might damage or lessen our relationship with Great Britain. But at the same time, I’m maybe more concerned that the constant drip drip about a potential border poll is creating even greater social, political and in turn economic instability.

Investment needs to quantify risk and predict future stability and it seems to me Northern Ireland might be uniquely positioned to satisfy both, long before the conclusion of the Brexit negotiations.

Like so many things in life it would involve a trade-off of sorts. Both unionism and nationalism might be asked to make concessions in the interests of shared regional economic stability and progress.

Unionism would accept that Northern Ireland remain in the customs union — or a differently titled version of the same thing — irrespective of whether GB eventually takes the same course via the negotiations.

For argument’s sake, that could be for a period of say twenty years. In turn nationalism would accept there would be no border poll for the same period.

The net result is no border poll or hard border for twenty years — and a lengthy period of stability for Northern Ireland to come together socially, grow economically and compete globally.

We would be attractive to businesses re-balancing their operations in the UK as well as those within the EU wishing to maintain strong relationships with the UK. And we would be unique within the broader European region.

Whatever you think of the Belfast Agreement, it created a window of opportunity for Northern Ireland to try and move away from headcount politics, and for unionism to win the argument by making the economic and social case for a Union for all.

A border poll/customs union type deal would give us a new window for the same. I listened carefully to Arlene Foster say this week that unionism stands for pluralism and multiculturalism -and she’s right.

A growing unionism that has appeal outside its traditional support will secure the Union in perpetuity.

But she had to talk about pluralism and multiculturalism in the context of being “reclaimed” because in her twenty odd years in public life she’s done little or nothing to advance these arguments. You only reclaim what you’ve given away.

So, we need that new window, not just for economic stability and prosperity, but to reset the clock on making sensible and attractive arguments on a Union for All — for peoples diverse in ethnicity, religion, culture and orientation.

A Union that respects diversity and celebrates difference.

And who knows where the world will be two decades down the line and what that generation’s desired relationship might be for the UK and our European partners.

Maybe by then a successful Northern Ireland will be better placed to take that decision.

• Rodney McCune is a barrister and former Ulster Unionist candidate