Basil McCrea tells SF Summer School they are putting party before country…

Basil McCrea’s speech to Sinn Fein’s 4th (I think) summer school was jovial (you’d expect that), civil and delivered in a friendly tone. He had his republican audience laughing more than once. But his payload was well constructed and thought out.

Although I am not sure he’s right about one border poll automatically triggering another every seven years after, he’s almost certainly spot on about the narrative Sinn Fein would use to leverage to leverage the advantages that would subsequently run in its direction.

And, for the record, I think his estimate for the pro unification voting estimates in an actual poll are also a tad low:

I suspect if a border poll were to be held today the result would be disappointing for those hoping for a United Ireland. If I had to guess, based on the recent census figures, about 25% of the Northern Irish population would vote for a United Ireland.

But ironically such a poor showing would be strategically advantageous. It would set in train a series of border polls every 7 years. A poor result now would provide a wonderfully low baseline figure from which to build for the future, with every modest increase hailed as progress towards the ultimate goal.

It would provide Sinn Fein with a simple, emotive issue upon which to campaign on both sides of the border. An issue that would eclipse all other issues.

You wouldn’t need to worry about the daily struggle of our fellow citizens to make ends meet. You wouldn’t need to worry about soaring youth unemployment, surging hospital waiting lists, our balancing the budget.

It would unite the party, energise the base, and out manoeuvre your dissidents.

It is a brilliant strategy….. if your commitment is to Sinn Fein alone,

It is a brilliant strategy…. if your allegiance is NOT to the people of Ireland but to the party

It is a brilliant strategy …. if your vision is all about you and not about us.

But if you are interested in the people of Ireland, if you want to build a better Ireland North and South, if you are serious about peace and reconciliation you may want to think again.

Not because you want to abandon your goal of a United Ireland but because you are serious about wanting to achieve it.

If you really want to realise your vision……you must first convince the people (and not just the nationalists) that you have their best interests at heart. That you act in the common good. You must demonstrate that you are not only competent in government but able deliver real and sustainable benefits to the people.

A border poll will polarise our society, it will deter investment and it will distract us from the real issues facing the people of Northern Ireland, youth unemployment, educational underachievement, soaring demand for health, the chronic shortage of housing, and the rising cost of living.

A border poll will prevent you from demonstrating your competence in government; it will call into question your motives, and the wisdom of those that would engage with you. It will set us apart.

He continues…

Last year here in Cork, Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams announced “key strategic goals” to achieve a United Ireland. Amongst the points he raised.

To popularise re-unification as viable, achievable and in the best interests of all, and to build consensus for this.

It is pretty hard to do this if you keep telling us how bad things are down here.

As part of a speech at the 250 year anniversary of the birth of Wolf Tone, SF Deputy, Pearse Doherty stated

“Ordinary hardworking families face the daily fear of how they are going to pay their mortgages and household bills.” He also claims “public services are cut to the bone” and the state “has failed to tackle record emigration, failed to tackle escalating unemployment, failed to tackle the banks, failed to tackle the scandal of mortgage distress and failed to tackle the problems facing small businesses.”

Not a pretty picture and it highlights a strategic flaw in your plan. You cannot ride two horses at the same time. You cannot lacerate the Government in the Republic for the failure to address the problems of the South, whilst at same time trying to persuade the people that the time is right for a border poll.

Your strategy is inconsistent, incoherent and in trouble.

If I move to another section of the blue print

To convince a section of the Unionist opinion that their identity, self interest and quality of life will be best served, secured and guaranteed in a united Ireland.

You have the opportunity in government in the North of Ireland to demonstrate how this would be the case. Actions speak louder than words.

You cannot convince me of this whilst you introduce amendments to the planning bill that ride rough shod over parliamentary processes and attempt to restrict access to judicial review of government decisions.

You cannot convince me that my interests will be best served whilst your Minister of Education seems determined to impose a particular view on on our education system.

You cannot convince me that my future is safe in your hands, if you continue to put the needs of the party in front of the needs of the people. [I know this an issue about party management which we really have to sit and say to yourselves, other people are looking.]

You do have real political power in the Assembly. Those you wish to persuade are watching carefully. Do you have the courage, the confidence, the capacity to win the argument, before you attempt to win the vote?

For completeness, here’s Mary Lou’s equally temperate reply… although, to be fair, there’s not much in a way of a direct response to Basil’s civil attack lines in there…

Adds: Here’s Basil’s response to Mary Lou’s response (it’s worth it for the quip about telling Gerry Adams that he was wrong):

You can pick up the rest of the discussion in this sound cloud recording (from 39.30):

There must be more scope for this kind of cross community, cross jurisdictional political engagement. Smaller scale, and more party political than the heavy lifting that goes on each year at the MacGill Summer School, the shift from private back room to public engagement is an important one.

Isn’t it about time that one or other of the Unionist parties began holding their own?

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