Northern Ireland border poll, 1973
|Northern Ireland border poll|
Northern Ireland within Great Britain & Ireland
|Date||8 March 1973|
|Voting system||Majority voting|
The Northern Ireland border poll was a referendum held in Northern Ireland on 8 March 1973 on whether Northern Ireland should remain part of the United Kingdom or join with the Republic of Ireland to form a united Ireland. It was the first time that a major referendum had been held in any region of the United Kingdom. The referendum was boycotted by nationalists and resulted in a conclusive victory for remaining in the UK. On a voter turnout of 58.7 percent, 98.9 percent voted to remain in the UK.
The Unionist parties supported the 'UK' option, as did the Northern Ireland Labour Party and the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland. However, the Alliance Party was also critical of the poll. While it supported the holding of periodic plebiscites on the constitutional link with Great Britain, the party felt that to avoid the border poll becoming a "sectarian head count", it should ask other relevant questions such as whether the people supported the UK's White Paper on Northern Ireland.
The Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP), however, called for a boycott of the referendum, urging its members on 23 January 1973 "to ignore completely the referendum and reject this extremely irresponsible decision by the British Government". Gerry Fitt, leader of the SDLP, said he had organised a boycott to stop an escalation in violence.
The civil authorities were prepared for violence on polling day. They had put in place mobile polling stations which could be rushed into use if there was bomb damage to scheduled poll buildings. Two days before the referendum a British soldier, Guardsman Anton Brown of the 2nd Battalion, Coldstream Guards was shot dead in Belfast as the army searched for weapons and explosives which could be used to disrupt the upcoming referendum.
The vote resulted in an overwhelming majority of those who voted stating they wished to remain in the UK. The nationalist boycott contributed to a turnout of only 58.7% of the electorate. In addition to taking a majority of votes cast, the UK option received the support of 57.5% of the total electorate. According to the BBC, less than 1% of the Catholic population turned out to vote.
The Government of the United Kingdom took no action on receipt of the referendum result, as the result was in favour of the status quo (Northern Ireland remaining part of the UK). It was followed by an Assembly election on 28 June 1973.
Brian Faulkner, who had been the last Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, claimed the result left "no doubt in any one's mind what the wishes of Ulster's people are. Despite an attempted boycott by some, almost 600,000 electors voted for the maintenance of the union with Great Britain". He also claimed that the poll showed that a "quarter of the [N.I.] Catholic population who voted ... voted for the maintenance of the union" and that the result was a "blow ... against IRA mythology".
- The Times, 16 January 1973
- "BBC ON THIS DAY | 9 | 1973: Northern Ireland votes for union". BBC News. 9 March 1973. Retrieved 2012-03-11.
- The Times, 6 March 1973
- Eder, Richard (16 November 1973). "8 Get Life Terms in London Blasts". The New York Times. Retrieved 27 September 2016.
- The Times, 12 March 1973