A few things have got me thinking recently. The first was the progressive election campaign by the DUP. The second was the comments by Declan O’Loan and thirdly, was the creeping nature of the dissident campaign.
The end result is a mixed up collection of emotions and thoughts that I just have to get off my chest.
The DUP campaign got me to think the unthinkable (as a republican) – could I ever countenance something short of Irish unity, particularly in the long term. I argued before that I would like to hear from unionism why I should question my belief that Irish unity is the only way forward. Could unionism convince me otherwise? I listed a few things that would certainly get my interest. No Orange marches in nationalist areas/recognition of the Irish language/removal of British symbols from shared spaces to name a few. I have read lists of what republicanism might offer unionists if they embraced a United Ireland but very little from the opposite viewpoint.
But that lead me to a further thought. Will unionists ever truly believe that a republican like me (who supports the GFA) can ever really leave our support for violence back in the 1990s – and is this a barrier to future unity. Is there a lingering view within unionism that although we publicly reject the dissidents that privately we rejoice in their actions? I often asked myself the same question – why, for me, was it right in 1993 but wrong now? That question is easily answered whenever there is a bombing or shooting by the dissidents because I ask ‘what was my gut reaction?’. I can only speak for myself and my reaction is anger at the futility of the actions. How can the dissidents ignore the openly voted for will of the Irish nation. The GFA was supported by the vast majority of people – no ambiguity.
But then all that got me thinking even more. Will the unionist community ever be able to work in true partnership with Sinn Fein, perhaps even towards Irish unity? The only answer I can come up with is ‘no’. The problem is not Sinn Fein’s strategy but that Sinn Fein seem incapable of delivering it.
So what of the SDLP – can they deliver where Sinn Fein can’t? Not a hope in hell. They offer no rational way forward for nationalism other than to say ‘we are not Sinn Fein’. Any political strategy that sells itself as ‘at least we’re not the other lot’ will go nowhere – just ask Reg Empey.
This takes me onto my final point. If this is where the two parties stand; should they merge? Of course they shouldn’t. If they did that, they would be rejected by unionism because of their collective baggage – any new party would just be Sinn Fein plus. What we need is not a merger but a new beginning.
Whether we like it or not the only nationalist party capable of uniting Northern Nationalism, without making unionism run a mile, is Fianna Fail. I know that view will go down like a lead balloon in some quarters but I just don’t see any other way. The obstacles to this are many but if they did get their act together they should advance North in their own right and not as part of any pact with the SDLP.
Fianna Fail is the only party capable of delivering Sinn Fein’s strategy of being in Government on both sides of the border. They would also have the added benefit of not being utterly detested by the vast majority of unionism.
But until that happens I will keep putting my X beside Sinn Fein – what else is there?