O’Leary: united Ireland depends on three key stakeholder groups…

As Pete noted the first of Sinn Fein’s fora for a united Ireland took place in Manhattan today. We were lucky enough to have one of our readers and commenters there. He comments under the name USA. Gerry Adams spoke about the need for a “huge outreach to our Unionist brothers and sisters” and about “nation building”. Also there was Senator John Schumer who apparently arrived late and left early. Brian Keenan, the author, not the IRA man, who was of a mind that political union would be the last piece in the puzzle, that the inhabitants must first be united “ intellectually, emotionally and imaginitively”. And Terry O’Sullivan spoke about the influence of American Labor movement in the Obama campaign. Over to ‘USA’:From commenter ‘USA’:

Dr Brendan O’Leary spoke at the Unite Ireland forum held in Manhattan on June 14th 2009. He focused on three main points all of which dealt with practical realities.

Firstly he addressed the fact that some northern Catholics will not vote for a united Ireland in a border poll / referendum. O’Leary referred to this group as “cultural Catholics” and believes that without them a united Ireland cannot happen. He argued that their support is a prerequisite to re-unification.

Secondly he referred to the influx of immigrants and how they will affect voting patterns. He jokingly speculated that the final say in any referendum may fall to Polish Catholics with British passports. However, as the only game in town is now a purely political game, then Dr. O’Leary’s point is a serious one. Elections are all about the numbers and the immigrant vote could well become a group that politicians need to win over.

While Dr O’Leary did not mention the gay and lesbian community, and they may only be around 2% of the population, this is another example of a group that has friends, family and loved ones who also vote. Given the DUP’s recent hemorrhaging of support to the TUV, they (and unionism in general) cannot afford to keep alienating voting blocks with such abandon.

Consequently I thought O’Leary’s comments in this area were of value and provided much food for thought for all political parties in the North.

Finally he spoke of the need to bring over Protestant voters to the side of a united Ireland. He felt it was necessary for two reasons. Firstly, he believes without them a united Ireland cannot happen and also because he felt it was the principled thing to do. I cannot disagree with his position in this regard.

He went on to state that he does not believe demographic trends will deliver a nationalist majority via the cradle. He said historical data shows the nationalist population growing at 0.8% per annum, a trend he described as significant, and if continued this would bring a nationalist majority in the north by 2023.

However, he was clear that he believes recent trends (last 5 to 10 years) show that the nationalist population seems to have leveled out at the 42% to 45% range so nationalism should not expect to out breed unionists. Hence he believes that a united Ireland depends on the support of three key stake holders, the support of immigrants, “cultural Catholics” and significant numbers from the Protestant community.

He then went on to make a proposal that an Irish Federal arrangement was the political system most likely to bring about stable government in the event of a united Ireland. He specifically stated this was not a re-statement of the old Sinn Fein Eire Nua policy. Indeed Dr. O’Leary’s proposal is essentially consociationalism which has influenced his work in Iraq where he is an advisor to the government of Kurdistan and also his role as an advisor to the British and Irish governments on issues such as policing in the north of Ireland.

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty