Sinn Fein’s Irish Unity drive in Britain is still too restricted to the usual suspects

Pete has already noted Paul Bew’s unionist intellectual’s contribution in advance of Sinn Fein’s Putting Irish Unity on the Agenda conference tomorrow (Saturday). Apart from the flattering comments from the noble Lord and former Trimble adviser, much of the agenda attracts the sort of left British opinion Sinn Fein courts here but is wary of in Ireland. The Guardian’s Comment is Free carries articles by several of them. Margaret Ward’s piece on the role of Irish women supports Irish abortion but tactfully omits any reference to SF’s position. As Paul remarks, SF are in listening mode. At a preliminary conference in Westminster, I’m afraid I misread the listening for a dearth of their own ideas. Still, it was refreshing compared to the old agitprop. However unless SF can attract engagement from wider than this largely self-selecting forum (with Lord Bew as the grit in the oyster), it’s hard to see how they can make much headway. Ironically it was the Agreements that sucked much of the energy out of the unity dynamic. After an awkward pause, SF will continue searching for a way to pick it up again. Now that the great historic grievance has been addressed, a new rationale is required. Typically, Martin McGuinness will be appealing more to harder headed self interest than will his President. After the long war, the long haul. As a duo, are Adams and McGuinness turning into De Valera and Lemass?

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London