One Tim Hames, writing in today’s London Times, looks ahead to a ‘win-win’ scenario for Sinn Fein in which it will (he believes) “decommission the SDLP even faster than General John de Chastelain and his team can dismantle the IRAs arsenal”. But the rub, for those fundamentalists still within modern Sinn Fein may be the shift away from the headline terms of the war (severing the link Britain), to a new imperative under conditions of peace and democracy:
The more effective that Sinn Fein is as an electoral force, the more impotent it becomes as an ideological one. Every deal it strikes with Tony Blair legitimises the British presence in Northern Ireland. Every concession it secures that advances the economic and social standing of ordinary Roman Catholics in Ulster weakens the argument that it is only through Irish unification that those material interests can be realised. With every step that Ulster takes towards becoming a normal society, so what Sinn Fein officially regards as an interim settlement becomes more deeply entrenched.
This is the outlook for republicanism. A larger and larger number of nationalists in both the North and the South will vote for Sinn Fein but more because they regard it as the best vehicle for representing them in a divided Ireland than out of support for a united one. Nor will it make much difference if Catholics finally outbreed Protestants in Ulster. Even at the height of the Troubles a substantial percentage of nationalists preferred the status quo to the upheaval of unification.
That sentiment will only swell if politics is perceived to be working in Northern Ireland.