Today’s Sinn Fein conference in London on ‘Putting Irish Unity on the Agenda’ begs the obvious question: whose agenda?
The contributors are overwhelmingly from Britain and Northern Ireland, and there are no elected Irish representatives (TDs or MEPs) down to speak. It reminds me of one of those family moments when the adult siblings are debating what they’re going to do with their ageing mother, whilst all the time their mother is in same the room – compos mentis – increasingly irritated at being treated like she’s not there.
It might be worth the conference participants remembering that Article 3.1 of the Irish Constitution (adopted after the Good Friday Agreement) reads:
“a united Ireland shall be brought about only by peaceful means with the consent of a majority of the people, democratically expressed, in both jurisdictions in the island.”
In other words: if a majority of people in the Republic of Ireland don’t want a United Ireland then it doesn’t matter if a majority in Northern Ireland do want one.
An unlikely scenario, perhaps. But a survey by my own company just last month (for a book I am writing), asked a representative sample of Irish adults whether they agreed or disagreed that ‘on balance it would be better for people on both sides of the border if there was a United Ireland’. A slim majority – 55% – agreed (29% agreed strongly): but only a minority of those living in Dublin agreed (47%).
Sinn Fein might anticipate new leverage in Northern Ireland as the largest individual political party, but short of a coalition with Fianna Fail post the next general election in the Republic they won’t have anything like the same sway over opinion in the south. Though that’s a scenario that can’t, of course, be ruled out …