There has been a small Twitter row over a recent election leaflet put out by Sinn Fein’s North Belfast candidate, Gerry Kelly displaying the number of Catholics and Protestants in the constituency. The debates about the rights and wrongs of the leaflet have been argued out on Mick’s thread on the topic and I don’t propose to cover that here, but it did get me thinking about the future direction of republicanism/nationalism.
I write (or ramble) about republicanism and in this election I have been faced with a real dilemma. I have never had any real attachment to either the SDLP or Sinn Fein, but I have always had an over-riding belief that despite the many differences between the various factions that ultimately Nationalists could unite behind a certain set of common principles.
The ideas of unity, nation-building and progressing this islands interests are something I that I think the majority of Nationalists share. Many of my friends whether they’re in Fianna Fail, the SDLP or Sinn Fein regularly express the same sentiments just with a different turn of phrase. There are some common threads despite the electoral battles that go on across our country.
I want Nationalism to do well, I want to see the values of unity and reconciliation win across this country. I want to see people who whether they’re Catholic or Protestant, Straight or Gay, born here or came here from another country, be persuaded that this is the right course for them and their family for to take.
Idealistic I hear you say, perhaps it is. But, we cannot allow republicanism to be boiled down to a headcount. We are trying to persuade people about reconciling a divided island and I cannot see how we even get close to victory by erecting barriers which simply don’t need to be put there.
How many surveys do we have telling us that the old norms of Catholics going one way and Protestants going the other is quickly becoming redundant in the 21st century?
We have such an opportunity to grasp the growing numbers to people who are just plain apathetic and bring them into the Nationalist fold like the SNP did in 2014.
Yet old thinking, a lack of policy focus and any clarity in our future direction of travel sees people fall back into a mindset that simply creates no go areas for republicanism.
Republicans always say we hold the idea of “one nation, one people” at the heart of all that we believe, we must stand up and demonstrate that when we say it, we actually mean it.
I never want an ideology to be based on religion, nor do I want a stale homogenous nation where only one view-point is acceptable.
If we look to successful and stable republics like the United States, we see that their diversity is what makes them strong. The fact that a whole host of cultures can come and find some comfort that country is a model I want to emulate here.
When we have this debate in future, I hope we can put the census figures in the bin and get out there and make the case for a thriving, positive and prosperous republic that I really believe is out there for us.
There can never be any no go areas and nobody that cannot be convinced. If we truly believe our cause is right, then this has to be our approach.
I’ll leave the final words to Anatole France
To accomplish great things, we must not only act, but also dream, not only plan, but also believe.
David McCann holds a PhD in North-South relations from University of Ulster. You can follow him on twitter @dmcbfs