“The decision on our island’s future lies with the people, not political parties”

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.

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  • granni trixie

    You seem to be assuming that ‘unionists’ are not part of the cultural change whcih is afoot and whcih I believe will lead to a united Ireland (though not in my lifetime).This kind of change comes O so slowly, and was slowed down drastically by physical force which politicised things Irish (not just in unionists eyes).

  • The main reason I think is that there won’t be a UI anytime soon, is because even if there weren’t a signicant number of catholics voting in the privacy of the booth, for UK, There would be a referendum in the State as well which wouldcertainly turn up their noses at us joining them. As fart as most southern voters are concerned,m we are damaged goods up here, and anyway, they don’t feel dprived in the Republic at not having thse six counties.

  • My fat fingers causing unfortunate spelling errors in that post. sorry.

  • OneNI

    Robert Peston:
    “That would take the total quantity of state investment in Ireland banks to a breathtaking 75bn euros (actually a tiny bit more than that).

    That is an almost unbelievably large number. When I think about it, I have a small panic attack – because it represents 45% of Ireland’s GDP and 55% of its GNP.”

    “if Britain’s banks had gone bust to the same extent, British taxpayers would have invested something like £700bn in them – or more than 10 times what we actually invested in Royal Bank of Scotland, Lloyds, Northern Rock and Bradford & Bingley.”

    If he is correct then surely a rationale person must consider that the only possibility of a united Ireland is if the Republic rejoins the UK?

  • perseus

    It is the people who will decide, however parties like (SF) exist to provide stimulus;
    and for those unpersuaded; a transformative prescription of what Unity would look like.

    .

  • Pat Mc Larnon

    Perhaps the writer could point us in the direction of ‘that million-strong unionist electorate’? They seem to have shipped a few of late.

  • Politico68

    Mick makes a good point but he does what so many observers on this awkward little Island often do, and that is he tries to imagine what might be in twenty years time based on what is happening now. One would have to be an Idiot in the Athenian meaning of the word to think that Irish Unity should in any way be at the top of our list of priorities at the moment. In the short term it looks as if very soon Unionism will be depending on Nationalist votes to maintain the Union and although this may not lead to a UI, it is still a very rocky perch for Unionism to sit on. And we all know what happens to Unionists when they are on wobbly ground. Division, division more division and disagreement. Sinn Feins drive for a UI will be less affective in attaining that goal than the stress and confusion in Unionism as their majority slips away. As has been proven over the last few years, weak and unyielding Unionism damages the Union irrevocably

  • Politico68

    By the way the Protestent/ Unionist poulation is slightly over 900,000 according to the 2001 census, in fact its likely to be the same or even slightly less after the next one this year.

  • Mainland Ulsterman

    The writer Mick cites seems to have only the dimmest inkling of the size of the issue he is flagging. That he formerly bought into the “occupation” myth with only a vague thought about the democratic situation in NI is also damning. Glad he seems to be waking up to reality at last. Sorry but the united Ireland project was always holed before the waterline, because it starts on a faulty premise: that there is one single Irish people.

    Once you concede the obvious that there are two nationalities on the island, the question is: what is the goal of Irish nationalism? It’s just victory over the Brits, really, isn’t it? “Irish people”? Meaningless guff. “Unity”? Hardly likely. But if it were, exactly how much Britishness would there be in this new unified identity? Hmmm, I thought so.

  • OneNI

    Politico68 – never let stark economic reality get in the way of a good ole sectarian headcount eh?

  • DoppiaVu

    “Mick makes a good point but he does what so many observers on this awkward little Island often do, and that is he tries to imagine what might be in twenty years time based on what is happening now.”

    You get off ot a great start, but given that the rest of your post is basically predictions based on direct projections of current events and trends, do you not think perhaps that you are…err…imagining what might be in twenty years time based on what is happening now?

  • quality

    The problem is that Gerry Adams’ “reaching out” to the working class loyalist/unionist electorate were essentially a stick to beat the DUP and UUP for. He knows, as any sane minded person would, that no one on the Shankhill will be voting for Pat Sheehan, either McCann, Sue Ramsey or Paul Maskey any time soon. But it does add to the narrative that Sinn Féin are a working party for working people, which the case study of west Belfast would certainly not support.

    But anyway… Reaching out to the unionist population in a truly inclusive manner has long been a problem for Irish nationalism – realistically, in most cases there just isn’t parity of esteem (obviously this cuts both ways). Add that to the fact Sinn Féin are yet to put together a truly convincing model or timetable for unification, and instead are largely concerned with carte blanche statements about 2016.

    As alluded to by Horgan’s article, re-unification by bombs or a simple numbers game would be problematic, as would be the question of what to do with ‘Britishness’ – similar to the problematic partitioning of Ulster in the first instance. It’s a pretty intractable problem, you would just hope it continues to be discussed via (largely) diplomatic means.

  • HeinzGuderian

    sf played a blinder in the March Elections ?????………..I could have played a blinder in the March Elections !!!!

    Why are we back to this old chestnut anyway ? A Notion Once Again…………….I guess it keeps some peeps happy,like serial predictor,ard……..;-)

  • SK

    “Sorry but the united Ireland project was always holed before the waterline, because it starts on a faulty premise: that there is one single Irish people.”

    Mainland Ulsterman,

    The implication being what? That the two brands of Irishness simply cannot coexist within a single, self-governing state?

    Now there’s a faulty premise. A corollary of it would be that Northern Ireland, with its menagerie of competing identities, is itself doomed to perpetual failure.

    ” “Irish people”? Meaningless guff. “Unity”? Hardly likely. But if it were, exactly how much Britishness would there be in this new unified identity? Hmmm, I thought so.”

    If unity is a non-starter because the two prevailing cultures on this island are simply incompatible with eachother, then surely Northern Ireland is equally unviable?

  • perseus

    Unity has the benefit of making everything simple:
    One nation, state, flag, anthem, currency, football team:

    If you wanted to avoid the split infinitives of identity,culture, history, language, geography
    voting unity would give your head some peace.

    “I will give you peace and quietness.” – Ian O’Chronicle 16:11

  • Republic of Connaught

    Whatever the chances of 32 county unification, Northern Ireland as a six county state has no chance of long term survival. Unless northern nationalists become happy subjects of an English King or Queen! Which, given the fact Ulster Catholics have fought English rule since before the Protestants ever set foot in Ulster, seems unlikely.

    Repartition will occur if 32 county unity doesn’t materialise. Nationalists will demand a new border which they’re entitled to – just as Unionists were evidently entitled to in 1921.

    I’m sure most in the South would be content with that rather than having to take jurisdiction over the worst Loyalist parts of Ulster against their consent. That, to any Southerner, is not desirable.

  • Zachariah Tiffins Foot

    If the future does indeed lie with the people it is unfortunate that Horgan feels obliged to insult some of them for having in his opinion a “peculiar attachment to an imaginary idea of Britishness”. A pretty arrogant view from someone living in a failed state.

    Let this ‘Imaginary’ Brit suggest that now is the time for reunification of the British Isles. Come on the Lost 26! You gave it a go but it didn’t work out. There will be a wee spot for you in the UK. After all a multi-billion down payment has already been made.

    Remember East-West is always best!

  • Gerry Lvs castro

    ‘Undeniably Sinn Fein played a blinder in March’s Dail election.’

    A blinder in what sense? SF failed to secure even 10% of the vote at a time when FF were on the floor and SF had an economic ‘solution’ that was both populist and genuinely different. They merely managed the result they were expecting in 2007 (a 10 to 15 seat figure was being envisaged at that time). Their best/only hope of progress is FG/Labour becoming as unpopular as FF in the next few years.

    ”parties like (SF) exist to provide stimulus;
    and for those unpersuaded; a transformative prescription of what Unity would look like.”

    SF have proved themselves the masters of protest, whether violent, sacrificial or demonstrative. What they haven’t proved is their credentials when given some responsibility. If unity would look like Ruane and Murphy, it’s going to be a pretty hard sell.

    .

  • perseus

    Gerry castro, you missed MmG ~the smiling derryman~
    look try this:
    print out a pic of Martin McGuiness ,
    paper clip it onto the pic of the Queen on your mantelpiece
    and check how you feel/think over the next few days.
    Get back to us on slugger central with your determinations

  • Greenflag

    One NI ,

    ‘If he is correct then surely a rationale person must consider that the only possibility of a united Ireland is if the Republic rejoins the UK?’

    And to pursue that rationale to it’s ultimate financial conclusion given current world endemic financial chaos and instability then the USA , UK , Germany , Spain , Portugal , Greece and Ireland should all apply to become Swiss Cantons .

    But alas I read the Swiss are thinking hard of joining the Eurozone as with their appreciating currency vis a vis the Euro their ‘exports ‘ are not doing as well and they’re losing out to the Germans and French and Italians .

    Reunification of the British Isles ? They can’t afford NI never mind the Republic and who would want to burden the hard pressed English taxpayer with more than he/she is able to afford ..

    We’ll have to wait for the great upcoming bondholder burning first after which there may be a large school of opinion in the UK in the City who would perhaps be somewhat disenchanted with the notion of ever using the word Ireland ever again as they sit in abject ‘poverty’ on the Costa Del Torquay retiring on a a fare of bacon butties and cold tea and sunshine three days a year instead of the glorious sun filled condos of Cyprus or Florida or Bermuda etc .

    My heart will bleed for them 🙂

  • OneNI

    Greenflag so believe re-unification is completely unrealistic during the lifetimes of anyone alive today – cos if UK cant afford it then no else can?
    Dont hold your breath on the bondholding (thou I sympathise with the sentiment!)
    Hope the UK continues to fight hard to maintain the Republic’s freedom to set its own Corporation Tax – without UK support it will be imposed by Germany

  • Politico68

    Politico68 – never let stark economic reality get in the way of a good ole sectarian headcount eh?

    It is not about sectarian headcounts, as long as the election results continue to show the electorate voting in terms of their religious background, call it what you want but there seems to be no change on the horizon. Rather than ignoring it lets talk about it. The stark economic realities are something everybody has to face up to reardless of ones religious or political persuasion, that was my main point unity will only become a real issue again when the black Dog of recession is gone.

  • Politico68

    ‘…do you not think perhaps that you are…err…imagining what might be in twenty years time based on what is happening now?’

    Somewhat maybe, but demographic shifts are very diferent than economic shifts in terms of predictions. Simply put, we have a situation were election results in terms of Unionist/ Nationalist blocks correspond directly to the Protestant/ Catholic population. There is nothing to suggest that the Political leaders will have ‘reached out’ adequetely to combat this so with 51% of the population under the age of thirty coming from a so-called ‘Catholic’ background…..well i think you can work it out for yourself. Economically, we are pretty blind at the moment in terms of what is actually happening on a european level on which both Irish Jurisdictions depend on. We hope some bright spark will slice through the financial problems and lead us to growth as has happened in the past, it’s unlikely that anyone will slice through the nationalist voting population anytime soon.