You can almost hear the conversation between the Government Spin Doctors on Wednesday afternoon… “It’s only a pointless TV poll about the North… Who cares? No one in the South knows who Stephen Nolan is. Let’s send out Jimmy Deenihan… sure, what harm can he do…”
To be fair to MoS Jimmy Deenihan his “No, really” reply to the question if the Republic could afford Northern Ireland if there was unity tomorrow has not done any real or lasting harm.
It has not set North/South relations or dialogue back more than a few minutes, but it is a clip that will be played over and over again in the minds of both Unionist and Shinner politicians alike when they consider whether politicians in the South are really serious about the prospect of a United Ireland.
Though Jimmy’s “No, really” was just an acknowledgement of the fact that the Government does not have a few billion to spare to facilitate unity tomorrow morning, it’s stark almost shocked delivery does again suggest a Government – or should I more correctly say two Government parties – who are disinterested and disengaged in Northern Ireland.
The fact that Fine Gael’s spin masters sent Jimmy, not a noted live TV performer and not someone dealing with the political situation in the North on a regular basis, out to the Studio rather than a more experienced and seasoned Fine Gael-er reinforces the impression of neglect and indifference – this was not something with which to bother a senior FG Minister.
Perhaps it was just the show and the poll they were planning not to take seriously, but the effect was to expose their deeper problem. Both governments indifference has allowed public trust to be undermined, something reflected in the poll results they were there to discuss.
Almost half of West Belfast children (46%) live in poverty, while pensioner poverty in Northern Ireland is 30% higher than it is in the UK. There is such a dearth of economic and social development and such contracted levels of trust in political parties in the North that it is no surprise that people not fixated on constitutional issues.