A rose by any other name

I’m genuinely confused.

An online friend mentioned today in passing that he refuses to use the term “Northern Ireland” – indeed he finds others’ use of it objectionable – because it confers unacceptable legitimacy upon partition. He is of course not alone in holding these sentiments. And if it were twenty years ago, I might accept that he had an argument (though I’m not sure twenty-year-younger me would concur). But surely such an argument is untenable today.

I don’t mean among the dissident second-Dail Jacobites, few though their numbers are these days. They cling to self-consistency like barnacles on a beached ship, admirable after a fashion. No, it’s the rest of northern nationalism I can’t fathom.

Whether you believe that partition was legitimate in 1922, and I understand the argument that it wasn’t, one can only hold that it remains illegitimate today if one discounts the 1998 referenda. The Jacobites have no problem with this – the referenda themselves were illegitimate, therefore so is anything that flows from them. Even those who took part but voted no could make a case on the basis that they only did so to ensure their objections were properly recorded.

But those who voted yes cannot deny the legitimacy of the vote or its consequences. Even if one voted yes only on the basis that it was the least-worst option, the concepts of desirability and legitimacy remain distinct. If refusing to use the name of “Northern Ireland” is a refusal to accept the legitimacy of the state, then how can one simultaneously support the document and subsequent referenda that purport to confer that very legitimacy? The crux of the GFA was a grand bargain – accept the current legitimacy of the state, while retaining the right to object to its desirability. What else is legitimacy if not a broad consensus that Northern Ireland should continue to function for the time being?

I’m genuinely curious: if you think a landslide vote in favour of what is effectively the founding document of NI v3.0 does not confer legitimacy, then what would? And why did you vote Yes?

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