I’m grateful to John at Nuzhound for linking a fascinating piece by John Horgan in the Irish Post. In it he pinpoints a question that has long puzzled many people. Undeniably Sinn Fein played a blinder in March’s Dail election. But as Horgan points out, it was not primarily because of their sound Republican stance on the ‘national question’.
More often it was ‘burning bondholders’ or wry mentions of how Argentina escaped its debt problem, than any strong political kinship with Northern Ireland that was heard on the lips of Sinn Fein’s most effective public campaigners. Horgan takes up the point:
A united Ireland is as far away as it ever was and Sean Oliver for Sinn Féin actually pinpoints why that might be. He says that the “the decision on our island’s future lies with the people, not the political parties”.
Well, apart from scoring the cheap point that our future lies perhaps more with the IMF and the ECB, he is himself illustrating just why a united Ireland will not happen in any foreseeable future.
For one, it is way down the list of the electorate’s concerns. Just as the 1916 insurgents were met with apathy or hostility when they took up arms, so the populace in Ireland now feels the same way about the unification of the island.
They are either not bothered or are hostile to it as they see it purely from a financial or economic viewpoint and see no point in marrying one failing state propped up by outside money with another one that has never properly worked anyway without outside money.
There is also in his pinpointing of the people’s own wishes something that always nagged me about the republican analysis of Ireland. That is ,what is to be done with that million-strong unionist electorate who are always going to say, no thanks, we’re British. What can be done about that?
Even when the IRA argued that it was fighting a war against an occupying British Army and even if many of us felt the power of that argument, the unionist population was always there in the background. Could they be bombed in to changing their minds, is that what we were supposed to think then? And now? Are we to believe they will simply be persuaded and that their peculiar attachment to an imaginary idea of Britishness will fade away? [emphasis added]
Despite SF’s laudible gains in the south, I am not sure there is a discernible strategy here yet. Yet if Oliver is right (and I am certain he is) there is a long job of work to do with people on both sides of the border before unification becomes a realistic prospect.
Perhaps Gerry Adams’ overtures to the Protestant voters of West Belfast is to be welcomed. It would be a substantial break from the party’s strategy in the past of trying to undermine confidence in their opponent’s community.
But in fact, mainstreaming Republican concerns about a 32 island Republic in the south may actually prove the more difficult of the two tasks in hand.
Not least when you consider how the larger Republican party (Fianna Fail, for those of you trying to guess) flatlined in the last election, so that the Republican interest is now in a substantial minority in the Dail to more right and left focused ideologues.
And that despite Sinn Fein indisputable rise in both stature and numbers in the March election.
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