Nationalism needs separate and competing visions for ‘unification’…

Although discussion on unity within unionism, or more broadly unionist realignment has been ongoing for some time, there has been little word of the same within nationalism.  Until, that is, Declan O’Loan made his surprise intervention a few weeks back.

Perhaps the North Antrim MLA realized in the wake of the Westminster vote there was only one nationalist quota left for two sitting nationalist MLAs. In which case he would have to eat even further into Sinn Féin’s transfer vote in order to retain his seat.

In fact the debate itself, at least on Slugger, felt more like a weak shadow play of the more vigorous debate within unionist political circles.

Certainly there are shared aspects of the predicament that has befallen both the former incumbents of Ulster politics: the SDLP and the Ulster Unionists. The declining trend in their respective votes over the last ten years almost exactly mirror each other.

This suggests, despite the finger pointing at individual leaders neither were ever in control of the wider trends which have unremittingly forced both parties to the fringes of Northern Irish politics in the post Agreement era.

Both once shared a sense of entitlement to primacy within the system, although in the SDLP’s case that particular knock came earlier on when Sinn Féin’s Pat Doherty breasted to a comfortable victory over Agriculture Minister, Bríd Rogers back in 2001.

In the meantime the SDLP has failed to define new more viable battlegrounds for itself.  And not just in delineating meaningful difference with their closest rivals Sinn Féin, but to present a civil challenge over the constitutional question in ways that attract rather than repel support from the unionist quarter.

That failure to develop new intellectual capital may be another reason why an otherwise cautious, moderate and loyal member of the SDLP went so far off message.

Indeed the idea of a unified nationalist party has found favour with highly respected Nationalist commentators, like Fionnuala O’Connor, as a potentially desirable outcome.

And yet it is not entirely clear why. For one, it is not an outcome Sinn Féin either needs or desires. They are comfortable as the senior party within Northern Irish nationalism. A merger might bring them sufficient votes in the Assembly to take the First Minister’s job next Spring, but it could also trigger a counter move on the part of the unionist parties.

It also ignores the longer term, iterative effects of Proportional Representation on the body politic. PR naturally fragments larger interest groups into smaller ones. Single block parties of the kind we see in Britain and the US are the singular product of the ‘First Past The Post’ system.

In truth none of our political parties have been able to confront the reality of post conflict politics. For unionists the job is to turn from defending to promoting the union: a union, that for all the fears expressed up to and after the Belfast Agreement, remains largely intact.

For northern Irish nationalism the problem is tougher since it remains within the UK and a long way short of uniting the island in – as the Church of Ireland Protestant Wolfe Tone once put it – “the common name of Irishman”.

Talk of unifying the two main parties is poor compensation in the absence of a credible plan to bring that larger nationalist goal to fruition. Worse, it may only be ‘externalising’ its frustrations at the glacial rate of progress towards that ambitious goal.

It’s not helped by the fact that most nationalist leaders refuse to admit the problem thrown up by the population figures in the 2001 Census: in order to get what it wants, nationalism must make its case to a significant slice of the unionist population.

That’s a prospect relished by precious few within either of the main parties. After nearly forty years of a nasty, ill-tempered and deeply sectarian faction fight, it defies the commonest logic to make friends with people with whom cultural differences have been magnified through the prism of that same conflict.

For all its electoral success in the last ten years that is not a task Sinn Fein can achieve under its aegis alone: not least because of its close and abiding relationship with that conflicted past.

Ironically, nationalism’s best chance for unification may be to remain free to develop separate and competing visions for unification. And maybe, just maybe, to begin to ask the people of the south if they even want to play that ‘game’ anymore.

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  • Erasmus

    ”No, but it is the only one who’s entire reason for existence is unification. All the other partys have other reasons. It does not.”
    Cormac, we have been down this road before. The above is a whopping great nonsequitur. If there is a referendum on unification in the ROI it will carry comfortably. You will simply have to get that into your head.

  • Greenflag

    ‘ But it is too soon to tell whether we are left with break up and meltdown or the emergence of a more stable structure that addresses the public’s needs.’

    That it is -i.e too soon . Which is one of reasons why I viewed the Conservatives ‘intervention’ in the last election as ill judged , badly timed and a disaster for the UUP .

  • Erasmus

    I make no apologies for repeating myself. As a middle-of-the-road southerner I can state categorically that Cormac MacArt only represents a fringe element in Southern thinking.

  • Erasmus

    ”Tax rise in the south for the average person to finance a United Ireland just under 20%”
    I would pay up happily.

  • Jean Meslier

    Plenty of questions there my good friend. But with a name like “Reader” you shuold have no problem with the following

    Sinn Fein and others were giving their support to this worthy cause with which I’m sure you’ll agree.

  • vanhelsing

    just need to convince another 2 million of your fellow countrymen then:) oh and get agreement from Northern Ireland….

  • Alias

    It looks like Conor Murphy was bleating to the Shinner sheep when he claimed that a united Ireland “could happen sooner than” 2016. Sooner that 2116 perhaps, but that will all depend on whether or not the EU federalists were successful in their goal of creating a single European state.

  • Alias

    The odds are that anyone who claims they’d happily pay 20% more tax doesn’t actually pay any tax.

  • Cormac Mac Art

    Quite right. Because most of us who support a united Ireland do so because its part of our culture, a reflex drummed into us.

    I’ve thought about the implications of unification, and cannot see what good it would do for my country.

    If someone can come up with good reasons that will benifit Ireland, fine, I’ll support it. But not a single post here on this subject – or elsewhere on the board – has ever given any reason to do so. I AM open to suggestion, but cannot see at present why I should do anything but oppose unification.

    Nor have I ever claimed to represent mass opinion down here. I’ve always said my views and conclusions are my own. After all, we are all just the online equlivants of lads talking down the pub. Nothing we say here will change the course of Irish history.

    What I have tried to represent is that if Irish people seriously think about the implications of unification, they will oppose it. Indeed, many already do so, which is reflected in the dismal votes Sinn Fein has in Ireland.

    Most of the people here are Northern Irish. It follows that if you live there, you simply will not be as familiar with Ireland as someone who lives here. Such as myself.

  • Cormac Mac Art

    Put THAT in a poll, and see how much support you get.

    The real figure is closer to 25%, if not much more. And not for one year or two, but FOREVER ……

  • Erasmus

    ”The odds are that anyone who claims they’d happily pay 20% more tax doesn’t actually pay any tax.”
    Not true in my case, I can assure you.

  • Erasmus

    C McA. Again you repeat your contention that people (like me) who don’t vote for SF are anti-UI. That is off-the-wall.

  • Alias

    I look forward to the day when Northern Ireland becomes a properous, self-sustaining region with a handsome fiscal surplus that it can use to keep Ireland in a style to which it was once briefly accustomed. Unfortunately, however, I think it’s just a dream, for as soon as unity would cost them a share of their incomes rather than cost us a share of our income then they would no longer support it…

  • percy

    I tink dat da unionists will come when dey are ready.
    an dat’s jus the way of it… and de way tings go …

  • “No, but it is the only one who’s entire reason for existence is unification. All the other partys have other reasons. It does not.”

    Are you serious?! Sinn Féin stand for 32 county politics. For Equality. For Socialism/Left Wing policies (in stark difference to Fianna Fáil/Fine Gael). There is a lot more to Sinn Féin than just being nationalist/Republician.

  • lover not a fighter

    Faith in the people on the Island of Ireland.

    Judging by the replies on here the Irish Nationalists/Republicans have it.(well more of it)

    The lack of faith in the people of Ireland to live and prosper without the big handout from London by some of the Unionist posters should be a cause of concern to the Unionist posters themselves.

    Is this insecurity just another manifestation of their insecurities regarding the Union or do they genuinely believe that, lets say by some chance the cheque from London got delayed temporarily or permanently that all would end up destitute and homeless.

  • No one’s saying that but the vast majority do. And consider that there are similarities elsewhere – some Englishmen would rather have nothing to do with the union and want an independent England; some Canadians think if Quebec want to leave their country they couldn’t care less; some Austrians actually want reunification with Germany as banned (I think) by international law following WWII. But to bring up that not “everyone in the south wants anything to do” with the north is just silly. Its well understood that a referendum in the 26counties would return overwhelming support for reunification. Also, consider that many Dubs want nothing to do with Cork and vice versa.

  • PaddyNavan


    Every single party in the Republic supports unification. As for the public, that poll seems fairly accurate in my experience. I would say 4 out 5 people here (outside Dublin 4 of course) support unification, although as the poll suggests, it is not seen as an absolute priority by most (myself included). Maybe you should think about it another way: how many votes do you think the southern neo-unionist Reform Organisation would win in the South?

    To equate being Republican with voting Sinn Féin is nonsense. Like many Irish people, I vote for a Republican party every time, that is I vote for the biggest political party on this island. It is not Sinn Féin.

    And to say that people from the North are from another country is just plain wrong. Dictionary definition of country: “any considerable territory demarcated by topographical conditions, by a distinctive population, etc.: mountainous country; the Amish country of Pennsylvania.”

    Has the island of Ireland a distinctive population? Yes, and for centuries it has been so. Is it demarcated by topographical conditions? Well, hmm it is an island demarcated by the Atlantic Ocean and Irish Sea. Yes, I think that counts.

    I can’t wait for unification so that people like you emigrate.

  • The Irish Nation, i.e. the Irish people, are not united. And when the majority of people on the island determine so, it will be united.

  • Reader

    Jean Meslier: But with a name like “Reader” you shuold have no problem with the following
    I read it – its aims seem to be incompatible with the two state solution. In fact clause 1 of the pledge seems to call for the end of the state of Israel altogether. If not, then the wording needs to be revised with more clarity and less chuckie rhetoric.
    Maybe the IPSC needs to start campaigning for something a bit more like the GFA, unless the Shinners have had enough of compromise for one lifetime.

  • Jean Meslier

    Ok Reader.Let me start with an apology in so far as I digressed from the main topic of this thread when I mentioned the rally in Hill St. newry today.
    However I was using todays event to make a comparrison between SF and the Stoops as to rhetoric and action.
    Namely the stoops talk the talk, but da Shinners walk da walk.
    Hence the “willing to give up a sunny Saturday afternoon in support of the oppressed people of Gaza.,” which you abley raised as an issue.
    Let me say there were reps and individuals from various organisations including Amnesty Intl. and a member from the Jewish community all busy gathering signatures from shoppers who were very supportive and well clued in to the circumstances in Gaza.

    Irrespective of any rhetoric, chukie or otherwise, I believe this weeks piracy in the Mediterranean will have a significant effect re: attitudes in the middle east.
    The arrogant inherent racism of the Zionist state of Israel is turning people against it on a daily basis.
    Nations and peoples who may have sympathsied with Israel’s plight due to the historical suffering of the Jews is rapidly diminishing.
    If they don’t take stock soon the only allies they will have left will be our own young Earth creationist nazi’s who hibernate on this site and the American rapture nuts who inhabit the Sky religious channels with their miracle bread and hankies.
    I note that even a leading member of the terrorist Mossad death squads has cautioned his government in case Israel becomes a “burden” on the US.
    There are many within Israeli society who see themselves turning into an irreversible pariah state.
    It is important these, secularist, voices of reason are heard above the nauseating propaganda churned out by robotic, lying spokespersons like Mark Regev.
    The best way for this message to get through is for the implementation of UN sanctions against this arrogant religious state, which has been insulated from its responsibilities for too long by successive US administrations.
    Everything is too one-sided in Israel’s favour. Only with the implementation of a level playing field can the Palestinian nightmare end and peace prosper in this tortured region.

  • Cormac Mac Art

    Indeed. But we’ve always been a nation. And the Irish state is a united country.

  • Cormac Mac Art

    Paddy – why should I want to leave my country, even if unification occours? Ireland is the only country I have, and the only one I want. If its voted in tomorrow, so be it. Ireland is a democracy, and I am a democrat. I might not believe its the right thing, but I will support a majority vote.

    Northern Ireland is a part of the UK. The UK is a country. Thus, NI is part of another country.

    All our parties have been supporting unification, but its hardly their number one priority. We already have a country of our own to look after and, issues of Irish identity aside, the Irish of Northern Ireland do not live in the Irish state.

    Supporting unification is a a credo enshrined in our culture, but on close examination one that may not make much sence. Each party keeps that aspiration because no one wants to be the first party to admit that they don’t want the north.

    I better make one point crystal clear before other people start calling me names again. I don’t support unification because I have yet to be persuaded it is in the interests of Ireland. But I AM open to persuasion. Give me reasons that strike me as sound, and I’ll support it. Until then, I see it as a knee-jerk reflex, understandably in our cultural mind, but not one that seems sensible to me.

    Mehawind – The fact remains, SF’s prime cluch of votes is in Northern Ireland, making it a “6-county and a few other places” party rather than truely all-ireland.

    If it stands for all of those things AND unification, then why, after over twenty years of effort, has it not got more than a few TD’s? Because its politics overwhelmingly concern NI, which is not part of Ireland, and thus issues largely irrelevant to voters in Ireland.

    Don’t forget that to many, SF is forever associated with the IRA and its activities. That is also a reason why it has yet to become a real player in Irish (as opposed to Northern Irish) politics. And no talk about equality and social justice will change people’s minds on that. Why should they vote for a party that still celebrates people who were at war against the Irish state?

  • Cormac Mac Art

    So why do we not hold a referendum?

    Can I make it clear, again, that if someone gives me good reasons for unification, I will support it. I have been asking here for years, but no one has, besides old dogmas along the lines of ‘a nation once again.’

    Thus, and because I cannot personally see the logic of it, I don’t support it.

  • Cormac Mac Art

    To digress, I think the last real opportunity we had to create a truely united Ireland was in the 1640’s, when the Irish Confederates ruled most of the island. There were Irish royalists, but a treaty was eventually worked out with them. As for the planters, they were in such small numbers that it would have been fairly easy to incorporate them into the new state and/or expell them back to Britain.

    But that never came to be, so we must put day-dreams aside and deal with life as it is.

    I often wonder why do SF support unification when, should it occour, they will automaticly become a minor party. It makes more sence for them to remain big fish in the small pond of NI. And they can still gain kudos by claiming to be an all-ireland party.

    But we all know this is not going to happen because, as they have made very clear over the past four hundred years, the unionists want to remain in the UK.

    The Troubles began because of civil rights. There was no talk of opting out of the union. Forty years later, Northern society is more normal that it has ever been. The original issues have been (or are in the process of) worked out. This leaves the notion of a united Ireland out in the cold again. Rightly so, because any and all talk of it brings up old troubles.

  • Cormac Mac Art

    I can’t think of any good reason, and am astounded that unionists don’t seem to realise this. Or that there is no great passion in Ireland for unification.

  • Cormac Mac Art

    Sure, it could happen.

    But what will make it so urgent for people in the south that it will become their #1 priority?

  • Cormac Mac Art

    That’s where support for it has fallen, when people have to count the cost.

    There was a time, when nationalism sentiment was so white-hot it consumed the intellect, that people would have done so. Its the rememt of that sentifment that makes so many of us still support the IDEA of a united Ireland.

    But in these more settled times, we quite naturally want to know who will pay for all of this, and what will we get out of it? Those should be the two questions foremost in our minds when anyone raises the notion of a united Ireland. Its patriotims at its most blunt.

  • Cormac Mac Art

    Yet another set of reasons why SF has done so badly in Ireland.

  • aquifer

    A simple question. Is it acceptable to have the ruling classes unify throughout ireland, and for that to become the primary engine that drives political unity?

  • aquifer

    I ask because they may be necessary to be compete economically, and the wider capitalist connections could replace the English connection for Unionists.

  • Cormac Mac Art

    I don’t see how that will happen. To what end, and why?

  • Ame

    Cormac, I wonder do you even understand, nevermind empathise with, the views of northern nationalists? We identify as Irish. We come from Ireland *just like you do*. My family has lived in the same county for hundreds of years and it’s where i was born, infact where my surname originates. I’m not British, and according to you I’m not Irish… so what am I exactly?

    No, the republic could not sustain northern ireland right now, that’s completely obvious. You seem to think, though, that everyone desiring reunification is a republican drooling at the prospect… which isn’t the case at all. Most of us are enjoying the relative normality of living in northern ireland at the moment, but in the longterm nationalists do not want to be ruled by a british government, because we aren’t british. Nobody is about to coerice the roi into anything, especially since there would be so many opposed to it here, and violently so.

    Don’t stress out, if reunification is to happen, it would be years away, possibly generations. I’m glad, by the way, you can speak totally on behalf of everyone in the republic. “we don’t want them!” – lol.

  • JoeJoe

    A commentator earlier suggested that those of a catholic background had 48% of the electorate but only got 42% of the vote, and this ties with a lot of unionist belief. Some of this is due to mixing up a guesstimate of the population as a whole with the electorate (over 18). Another mistake is to equate the labour force with the electorate, which also ignores the big majority from a protestant-background among the elderly.

    .I have attempted to break the 2001 census results into the 2010 electorate (e.g. assuming the most elderly at that time are dead and that those 9 years old then are in the electorate now, but not those any younger). The number crunching suggests the nationalist electorate (over 18) is 43.9% (and probably a bit less as those of a Catholic background in NI tend to live shorter lives than those of a Protestant background, where I have simply deleted all those who would be of a certain age by 2010. Despite turnouts equalising, it is relevant that that SF &SDLP’s 42% (Westminster 2010,) represents the vast bulk of the Catholic-background votes (or that the amount of leakage to unionism is equivalent to or less than the votes for nationalists from the protestant-background community).

    For unionists, a 53.4% Protestant-background electorate (or probably a bit more due to longevity again) is only producing 50.4% votes for unionists (TUV DUP UUP, Sylvia Herman Ind. and Cooper Ind.).

    In my opinion the SF 2016 unity talk is nonsense. The 8% gap between unionists and nationalist parties has only narrowed from 10% since the last Westminster election.

    In my opinion also however, unionists are fooling themselves big-time on this one. The gap at this rate will narrow in another 20 years, but maybe a lot sooner. Using the 2001 data, it would seem that for the first time, more of those of child-bearing years are from catholic than protestant backgrounds. As the unionist parties are ‘leaking’ more votes than SF/SDLP, it really would need massive pro-union immigration from GB to stop the rut.

    Finally, although more SF&SDLP assembly members than unionists in the assembly is the most likely outcome in 20 years’ time, unionists can take hope that this would not necessarily be the same in a border poll; UNLESS the poll was on starting a unity plan to unite within a further 30 years, which seems likely.

    Another issue worth considering, is the attitude of those in GB, if/when in 20 years’ time, the assembly and the majority of NI Westminster MPs are exclusively-Irish rather than British-Irish/British/Ulster Scots or whatever label unionists would prefer. It seems unlikely the English will continue to want the link to NU, when the NI majority see the British Queen and anthem as that of a foreign nation, and I would imagine the nationalist then-majority would not be shy about making their preference for the Irish President clear. I also think the money will dry up once the GBrs realise that their tax is often going to Irish nationalist projects, where the recipients have only neutral or anti-British attitudes..

    Overall, I think we are talking about when, rather than if there is a United Ireland. Cormac Mac Art doesn’t sound to me like someone from the south. As he has been told again and again, SF is seen in RoI as an extreme grouping. All southern Irish parties with TDs support long-term reunification. There is no need for southerners to vote for a party with no economic experience of running a state just to show they support long-term reunification Would southerners have elected a president from the north if they all thought like Cormac Mac Art..
    (I can’t copy the data from excel in here without the columns screwing up on me, but I’m confidend in my figs.)

    The above is my deduction from the data, but my opinion for what it’s worth, is that a gradual approach to reunification is the way to go, with unionist’s Britishness (would a reclaim of the term loyalist be appropriate then rather than unionist) being accepted in the same way that northern nationalists’ Irishness is today. Northern Protestants may want the Stormont power-sharing devolution to continue in a UI, or may prefer to scrap sharing power with SF and instead do a deal with say Fine Gael, Labout and The Greens in the Dáil. Either way, I think most Irish nationalists (i.e. southerners and SDLP’rs )will be happy with a gradual approach that should win respect amongst those who would prefer the status-quo.,

  • mcdanish

    Conor Mac,
    The Irish Constitution clearly sets out the conditions for Irish unity respecting the principle of consent and acknowledging the rights of people north of the border to Irish citizenship on the same basis that of everyone else on the island. This is a recognition that while a National territory can be partitioned, a Nation cannot.I believe the constitution is therefore written to accommadate National reunification (read articles 2 and 3).
    All Irish governments are bound by the constitution to accommadate the re-integration of the National territory should the expressed will of the people desire it.
    Conor Mac your views are closely alligned to that of the position of unionism because if you are apposed to National re-integration then you clearly support the continuation of the Union of GB &NI.Perhaps you are a member of the Reform Movement???

  • Cormac Mac Art

    Time and again, I have simply pointed out that unification is not a priority for the majority of Irish people in the way it is for SF.

    And, because of this, I have am pointing out that the likes of SF are wasting huge resources when they should be sorting out NI’s many other problems.

    I have no problem, per se, with unification. But NI has a long way to go before people in the south will happily incorporate it into the irish state.

    In all my posts, I’ve asked for good reasons to support unification. I am still waiting.