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?

, , , ,

  • Morpheus

    I have seen/heard Basil on a few things and read a few of his speeches and he seems to be recovering from his opening speech gaffe on day 1.

    On this issue I agree with him 100% – SF are not thinking about the bigger picture and are just trying to take what they think is the shortest route possible to a UI by assuming that those who vote SF will blindly follow them into the unknown and vote for a UI.

    They are also ignoring the other element required under the GFA – that the majority in ROI will vote to reunify.

    People are not stupid. Few will swap what they have now for what they might or might not have in a united Ireland.

  • Kensei

    He has some decent points, but his premise is off. A 25% border poll showing would be unlikely to make a great campaigning tool, In the South, it would be free hits all the time, and even in the North Unionists and getalongerists would hammer it continuously, probably to a friendly media.

    There are and hints of the FEAR argument being applied to Scotland at the moment in there, and also the certainty that if SF followed his proposal, his argument would be “NI is working, why change”.

    But there are some fair points. SF need a more joined up strategy, and they would have gained a lot of credibility by saying Ireland North and South needs to be through the worst of the economic crisis before tackling partition. I’d liken it to partition being a cancer, but the financial crisis being ebola.

    There must be more scope for cross border cooperation full stop, not just this sort of discussion. Because if SF are going to make any move to a more joined up strategy, there needs to be things in that space they can deliver to prove it’s worthwhile.

  • FuturePhysicist

    I’m not sure if a border poll goes against the common good, Unionists that don’t want it can vote against it, nor am I convinced that it distracts from North-South solidarity, regardless of the border, regardless of political allegiance or aspiration. When health services are being shared across the island a sort of “spiritual unity” will emerge making the politics an afterthought.

  • redstar2011

    Even though my politics are very different to Basils, I have a lot of respect for him and his obvious genuine honesty and heartfelt beliefs. Sorry thats off topic but just wanted to say it.

  • “Because if SF are going to make any move to a more joined up strategy, there needs to be things in that space they can deliver to prove it’s worthwhile.”

    Kensei, one of the things occurring in that space is the reorganisation of post-primary education. As you might expect, a SF education minister will seek to change arrangements here so that they are in harmony with Ireland. The outworkings of that process may soon be examined by the Ombudsman.

  • “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?”

    Do others have the courage, the confidence and the capacity to expose the shenanigans that are occurring in SF ministerial demesnes? The actions of some senior civil servants and members of quangos are worthy of scrutiny.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Hello Nevin, you’ve hit the nail on the head as usual. Thank you for bringing these big spacious issues back to the real slime that actually lubricates that part of them which actually interfaces reality.

    “Do others have the courage, the confidence and the capacity to expose the shenanigans that are occurring in SF ministerial demesnes? The actions of some senior civil servants and members of quangos are worthy of scrutiny.” I’d add DUP (et alii) ministerial demesnes to this, but this is implied anyway.

  • Alan N/Ards

    Hats of to Basil for attending the summer school. I agree with most of his comments though I believe that the past needs to be adressed before we can move forward.

  • Alan N/Ards

    Republicans need to spell out exactly what kind of New Ireland they believe will be acceptable to their people and acceptable their opponents. Do they have any policies on a new all Ireland constitution, police service, health, education, flag, anthem? What’s their view on Federal government, taxation, currency etc? It’s fine and dandy talking about a UI but it’s time to give the people some fine detail of what they would be voting for if a vote ever happens.

  • michael-mcivor

    ” Putting party before country ”

    But the people of the country voted yes to the GFA Basil-so lets not cherry pick out the main bits that you dont like-

    Basil seems to be opposed to a one off United Ireland poll than just opposed to one every 7 years yet his party at that time in 1998 allowed it to be wrote into the Agreement-is this a reason why he left the UUP to start up a baby party-he is totally opposed to this poll just now for some reason-

  • Reader

    michael-mcivor: But the people of the country voted yes to the GFA Basil-so lets not cherry pick out the main bits that you dont like-
    Basil isn’t objecting to a border poll – he is pointing out that Shinners who are committed to their country rather than to their party ought to object to an *early* one.
    To demonstrate your own commitment to the GFA terms, please tell us when is the right time to call a poll under the terms of the GFA. And then whether you think that’s what SF is attempting to do.

  • son of sam

    So Basil reckons that Sinn Fein are putting party before country.Tell us something we didn’t know already !

  • Morpheus

    I listened to the whole thing from start to finish and it was interesting. Fair play to Basil – he did really well but I thought Mary Lou McDonald was excellent.

  • I was impressed with his combination of critical engagement and jovial tone–he came off very good natured. I think that McCrea hit on one of the key problems for SF: in both jurisdictions on the island it will be advised to sort things out in the other part before it tells us how to live. SF is in the position of a man courting a girl (the unionists) by telling them that they are destined to be together instead of explaining how this would be advantageous to her, while ignoring his own poor history that makes him look like not such a swell catch. This criticism will be even harder to avoid in the South because there it will have to answer for its control in the North instead of just appealing to a large alienated section of the population. If it continues to try to appeal to the alienated in both sections it might help its electoral strategy, but will definitely hurt its unity strategy–if the latter is really at all important to the party.

    McCrea might be right about it being too soon to deal with the past, as people in general and politicians in particular don’t like to admit their mistakes. I haven’t seen too much honesty from either Adams or Paisley, and I don’t know if we’re in a position to get much more from McGuinness and Robinson. But I do believe in archives being opened up and historians having access.

  • GavBelfast

    She didn’t come across too badly but, really, this “six counties”, “the north east” and the like is incredibly tiresome, outdated language that surely appeals to no one but Sinn Fein’s own base alone.

  • Alanbrooke

    tmitch 57

    so far republican “courting” has been ” marry me or I’ll kick your head in “, I assume they got it from the Willie McCrea book on foreplay.

  • michael-mcivor

    Reader-

    ” Please tell us when is the right time to call a poll under the terms of the GFA “-

    I would hope for one soon or even in the life-term of the next Assembly but it will come when the Secretary of state calls it-who-ever that may be on that date-

    If that poll is won then there is a United Ireland then that will be the end of that land poll-but if that poll is lost then there will be a poll for a United Ireland for every 7 years until there is one- Basil is opposed to this and he is opposed to the GFA like the dissident Jim Allister-what side are you on-

  • Are we sure that, when a border poll is called, that then one must be held every 7 years? I thought that the language meant that if one is called, another one can’t be held sooner than 7 years hence.

  • Reader

    Michael-mcivor: I would hope for one soon or even in the life-term of the next Assembly but it will come when the Secretary of state calls it-who-ever that may be on that date
    Well, according to your touchstone on all matters relating to a border poll, the Good Friday Agreement, the correct answer is:
    “2. Subject to paragraph 3, the Secretary of State shall exercise the power under paragraph 1 if at any time it appears likely to him that a majority of those voting would express a wish that Northern Ireland should cease to be part of the United Kingdom and form part of a united Ireland.”
    It seems unlikely that this would occur during the next Assembly.
    Mister_Joe: I thought that the language meant that if one is called, another one can’t be held sooner than 7 years hence.
    “3. The Secretary of State shall not make an order under paragraph 1 earlier than seven years after the holding of a previous poll under this Schedule.”
    Basil was, I think, being a bit sloppy, as was michael-mcivor. A double assembly terms seems to be the most practical interval. However, if the SoS has already agreed that a vote for a UI is likely (or has agreed to pretend to believe it) it seems likely that there will be pressure for a frequent repetition of the poll unless the prospect starts to recede even further.

  • DC

    The Alliance Party will be bricking itself after that performance just as well this kind of coverage isn’t mainstream on bbc or something and will prob go unnoticed.

    At least there is now a liberal party that is Unionist within the assembly – kind of clears things up for the voters out there.

  • Mick Fealty

    Well, that remains to be seen… but I think it underlines the fact that those who have freed themselves from Executive whip are far more able to tell their own far more compelling stories…

  • Morpheus

    One thing has been playing over and over in my mind since I heard the debate…

    NI has failed, ROI has failed – let’s all make a new Ireland together.

    From a SF politician no less! It has a really nice ring to it.

  • GavBelfast

    But the United Kingdom has NOT failed, and Northern Ireland is a constituent part of it.

    Perhaps that has a better (and convincing, real) ring to it?

    😉

  • seamusot

    Ireland has suffered from partition by greater military powers for many centuries: Fir Bolg, Vikings, Anglo-Sexcons, corkonians, Orange bastards (few) from Holland, Vatican mobsters (many) and some planted Huguenots. Ireland prevails barring its overly decent tolerance of parasitic visitors. Come liberation visitors will be entitled – save for Presidential exemption – to a maximum visit of 4 weeks. Breach of this regulation will require the castration of male infringers and attachment of indestructible chastity belts on female invaders.

    Feck

  • Mick Fealty

    Huguenots?

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Seamusot, what about cats……..

  • News_Meister

    United Ireland
    Basil’s remarks at the SF “Summer School” were geared toward his own “lets-all-get-along” pro-Union audience. If examined rationally, the Nationalist reunification goal is best served by SF and SDLP striving to ensure N.I prospers and could stand on its own 2 feet.

    GavBelfast
    Our wee norn iron has never “worked” in terms of the existence a decent and civilised society. Therefore, N.I has indeed ‘failed’ and the history of this island strongly indicates we shall in due course experience yet another armed conflict if this little orange statelet fails to radically change.

    Alanbrooke
    The “you’re trying to force me to marry you” whinge would serve no purpose but to remind Irish voters they were dragged into an evil, gerrymandered orange statelet.

    Lest you forget, Northern Ireland’s very existence is due to a Unionist minority community who became terrorists when they armed, threatening revolt and ethnic cleansing in order to usurp this island’s Irish majority quest for Home Rule.

    Unionists can either debate and agree a genuinely new type of Ireland or maintain their intolerable bigoted little orange statelet and thereby oblige Nationalists to eventually terminate it with due prejudice i.e. when the RoI and N.I economies have suitably recovered and Nationalists possess that eventual 50.1% bulllet… tick, tock!!!

  • BifterGreenthumb

    @ Alan N/Ards, I total agree with you. We need to know what a UI would look like before anyone can make any kind of rational case for or against it. Until that happens both Loyalism and Republicanism are just identity positions and are ideologically bankrupt. Currently neither have any ideas that actually address the current conditions in NI. In fact even more than that as they have both degenerated into petty tribalisms they have become the main problem affecting Northern Ireland. Basil’s party no matter what they have declared themselves as in the assembly are the only party currently saying anything interesting about the current state of play in NI.

  • BifterGreenthumb

    @News_Meister – “Unionists can either debate and agree a genuinely new type of Ireland or maintain their intolerable bigoted little orange statelet and thereby oblige Nationalists to eventually terminate it with due prejudice…”

    Agree to an new ireland or be destroyed? Good to see the voice of rational republicanism out in force lol

    I cant tell if you are trolling or not.

    The 3rd option of course is to reform NI so that it’s not so bigoted and works for the interests of all the people who live in the 6 counties. Partition is a fact. A UI is an undefined idea. no one knows what it would look like. until we all have an idea of what a new ireland would look like why not try to reform NI to work for us all so as to avoid the need to exterminate an entire cultural tradition?

  • GavBelfast

    News Meister,

    NI was / is / probably will be far from perfect, but is simply a PART of a larger entity and, by no measure, can the UK be seen as a “failed state”.

    As for another of your points, I really would not be so presumptuous to think that Southerners will definitely vote out of some sort of great desire or duty to unite with “the North” if and when the population of NI decide that’s what they want.

    What’s in it for them? In fact, what’s in it for anyone? That’s before we talk about things like the subvention, huge public sector and, maybe above all, the NHS (non-existent in the Republic).

    I agree with you, however, that the Northern Nationalist parties should work as hard as they can to make NI a a better and more successful place. That’s being progressive and, by doing so, who actually loses?

  • Red Lion

    Hats off to Basil and the NI21’s. I agreed with most of what he said, and it was refreshing to hear such a vibrant and modern take on the constitutional arrangements from a pro-union perspective.

    I thought the contrast with Mary Lou was quite stark. I thought she relied on same old dogmatic rallying cries and points of reference and at times it was all she could do was fall back on these. She sounded boring and old. Basil was the one who sounded young and fresh.

    Fresh politics for me. I remain optimistic for NI21’s chances of success.