Scottish and EU referendums: The effect on Northern Ireland

Enda Kenny Enda Kenny said there would be "very serious consequences for Northern Ireland" if the UK left the EU

While Northern Ireland's Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness aims a few fresh barbs at First Minister Peter Robinson on the eve of another Sinn Féin Ard Fheis (annual party conference), others have been surveying the wider scene.

The Irish prime minister, Tony Blair's former chief of staff and the DUP MP for North Antrim have all been ruminating on what changes in Scotland or Europe might mean for Northern Ireland.

During a debate in the Irish parliament, Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Enda Kenny said it "matters to us all on this island, north and south, how the people of Scotland vote in their referendum on independence this September".

"A yes vote for independence would obviously have an impact on Northern Ireland."

'Delicate time'

Mr Kenny did not expand. But in a piece written for Thursday's Financial Times, Mr Blair's former chief of staff Jonathan Powell does explore the potential consequences.

Mr Powell wrote that a Scottish yes vote "would open up the constitutional question in Northern Ireland at a very delicate time".

Ian Paisley Jr Ian Paisley Jr told the House of Commons that Scottish independence would have an unsettling effect in Northern Ireland

He said republicans would up the ante on a border poll and unionist thoughts might drift towards greater autonomy.

North Antrim MP Ian Paisley Jr has been thinking along the same lines.

On the floor of the Commons, Mr Paisley asked a Conservative MP: "Do you agree with me that the unnerving and unsettling effect that a division in this wonderful union would have is that it would get the tails up of Irish republicans in my part of the kingdom, and would drive another wedge into the hearts and souls of people in Ulster?"

'Peace process'

Both Enda Kenny and Jonathan Powell set their concerns about Scotland within the context of the UK's wider relationship with Europe.

Mr Kenny told the Irish parliament that "it matters very much to us, north and south, how Britain renegotiates its membership of the EU and how it votes in a future referendum on EU membership".

"Ulster farmers have been big winners from the Common Agricultural Policy," the taoiseach said.

"Northern Ireland has also benefited from a strong EU regional policy and the cross border Interreg programme.

"The EU has been a very active political and financial supporter of the peace process.

Jonathan Powell Tony Blair's former adviser Jonathan Powell predicted travel restrictions between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland

"Were Britain to leave the EU, it would have very serious consequences for Northern Ireland and for enhanced north south co-operation," Mr Kenny added.

Mr Powell has also been staring into his crystal ball, envisaging a future in which an independent Scotland has rejoined the EU, the Republic of Ireland remains a member, but the rump UK decides to leave.


"With a patchwork quilt of memberships of the EU," Mr Powell surmises, "we would have to impose travel restrictions between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, and between Scotland and Northern Ireland.

"The notion of policing those two borders is a nightmare, and that is what really bothers policy makers in Dublin and Belfast."

With the latest YouGov poll pointing to 52% of Scottish people backing the union, against just 33% opting for independence, all these expressions of concern may turn out to be academic.

A Scottish no vote would still have implications for Northern Ireland in terms of the devolution of corporation tax or the transfer of other powers.

However, those consequences will be rather less seismic than the likely fall-out from a yes vote.

That will not stop politicians on both sides of the Irish Sea becoming amateur futurologists until the votes in September's Scottish referendum are counted.

Mark Devenport Article written by Mark Devenport Mark Devenport Political editor, Northern Ireland

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  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    You obviously didn't see or care about the recent polls regarding this question. I like many catholics currently don't see any future out of the union. However I would say things change but I feel that the south has a long way to go as we do before they want us or we want them and even then we switch from London to Dublin. Which is the lesser of two evils, Westminster has it for me.......

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    Unionism as an ideology is fast losing legitimacy anyway and a yes vote in Scotland certainly would be more like the final nail in its coffin- rather wedge in its heart. However that still wouldn't necessarily make a united Ireland inevitable in the short term as practical considerations would still have to be made about it's viability. But it would certainly change the debate from "if" to "when".

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    I don't think Scotland will vote Yes but Pandora's Box has been opened nonetheless. Fundamental changes to the structure of the United Kingdom are afoot irrespective of which way Scotland votes. The DevoMax option, which,will more than likely be offered to Scotland if the vote is a close run thing, will act as another fissure in the Union.

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    These matters are not just to do with economics and how much money is involved.
    It's also a question of identity.
    If Scotland leaves the UK IMO many Protestants, who regard themselves as Ulster-Scots and have a strong historical and cultural affinity with Scotland, will feel more isolated and vulnerable.
    This could have all sorts of ramifications.

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    In my first post, I said I thought Scotland wouldn’t leave the UK.
    Spending per head in the north of England is on a par with Scotland; it doesn’t suddenly change at the border.
    If there was an agreed re-unification of Ireland, I’m pretty sure that the UK (or its successor, in my earlier scenario) would be very happy to continue to pay a reduced block grant to the 6 counties.

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    Mark, it was good to see that the BBC picked up on the demise if all too brief of the Gino NV chain. Can I ask why there has been no coverage of the significance of job cuts in Bombardier Aerospace and the delays in the C series. Both of which must impact the Belfast plant. Belfast has been paying a significant part in the development of the new aircraft and as such must be now exposed!

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    And back to us, as stated before we need a solid base before we can do anything. Where do you think the south would find just under £11k per person per annum for that is what our grant is worth? just to put it in proportion thats over £19 billion out of their purse without what is funded directly. Lets get our house in order and then have this discussion.

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    To all intents and purposes unless there are significant constitutional changes Scotland would be forced to apply for membership and as such meet all the criteria. This will take time and mean them having to play by Brussels rules which inevitably mean hardship for the populous. Even then you may well find the likes of Spain put a spanner in the works....

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    However then you have to take into consideration cost currently funded directly by Westminster, to run a small military force such as Ireland has costs well over £1 billion. Then we have their exposure to the finacail institutions which are over leveraged and which need to be addressed. Then we have the question about EU membership, damned with it damned without TBC....

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    When IP jnr talks about his part of the kingdom I presume he means North Antrim. I checked my heart and soul this morning and found no signs of a wedge. Enda Kenny and Jonathan Powell were talking about the economic effect for NI/RoI if the UK left the EU, more than the consequences of Scottish independence. IP jr's paranoia over a republican plot is not shared by most Unionists here methinks.

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    Patrickspoint - I fear that if Scotland leaves the UK they would be taking a leap too far for they are not economically viable as a standalone nation. They by far have the highest spending per head and receive the second largest grant only beaten by us. Hence the average tax take PH would have to be over £29k meaning the average wage would have to be over "100k just to stand still. TBC......

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    I suspect "Home rule means pope rule" may have less resonance today.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    Even if Scotland votes to stay in the UK and it looks like that at the moment, but as Harold MacMillan once said, “Events, dear boy, events.” I think it will change the nature of relationships within the UK.
    I would like to see the break-up of the UK, with independence for England, Scotland, Wales, unification of Ireland and a new looser confederation of England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales.



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