There’s an election on in the South in case you hadn’t noticed.
Whilst yes, the North plays a little role in determining the outcome of an Irish election and the interest from Northern Ireland has hardly been great, I thought that since we now have the manifestos of the main parties out there now, it would be interesting to see what plans each of them have for the North.
You will be relieved to know that in all of the main parties’ platforms, Northern Ireland does get an honourable mention, however not all of them have the same depth of ideas or seeming interest.
Let’s start off with the party closest to home, Sinn Fein.
It’s not surprising that the party features a United Ireland at the front of its policy on the North. Indeed, Sinn Fein are the only party that has any policy structure on the issue of Irish unity specifically.
Should the party win government it promises to produce a Green Paper on unity and an Oireachtas Joint Committee on Irish Reunification which will outline the processes of transition to a United Ireland. Although, the manifesto does not specify when exactly these papers will be produced by.
Near the top it pledges an island wide referendum on unity, alongside speaking rights for MPs from Northern Ireland. Likewise, they party has a policy of extending rights to Northern Ireland for presidential elections.
All Island economy
The party starts by making the case for an all island economy;
Sinn Fein make the case for an all island economy; There are no advantages for an island nation of 6.4 million people in having two separate tax regimes, two currencies, two public service systems and two separate, competing economies. We would all be better off with a single economy within Ireland.
A United Ireland would grow the economy north and south. There are many examples in which a better service has been delivered through an all- Ireland approach, e.g., marketing the island as a whole for tourism, the joint cancer centre in Derry and the delivery of paediatric cardiac care from Dublin on an all-Ireland basis.
This policy has been pushed recently by Peadar Tóibín in his Oireachtas Committee on Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation Report on the All-Island Economy and the party is pledging to advance its recommendations. Likewise, the party cited the recent report that highlighted a possible €35.6 billion boost in GDP in the first years of reunification.
The pledges are simple enough with border region development zones, building the A5 and Narrow Water Bridge projects. They also want social clauses in public contracts and further co-operation in public services.
Dealing with the past
The manifesto mentions some legacy issues and pledges to raise them with the British government;
Northern Ireland policy features in the Fianna Fail manifesto with a re-statement at the top of the section about the party’s policy on Irish unity and supporting the Good Friday Agreement.
All Island Economy
What is interesting about the party’s manifesto is that it has some costings in areas about just how much a Fianna Fail led government would be prepared to spend in this area. The first example is border region development zones which states with party committing €3.5 million as an initial fund.
Then we have the usual suspects as North-South projects with the A5 and Narrow Water with the party committing €98 million and €20 million respectively.
The party does depart from Sinn Fein in regards to representation in the Oireachtas as Fianna Fail commits to Northern representation in the Seanad through the use of the Taoiseach’s nominee system.
Similarly, the manifesto like Sinn Fein’s commits to extending the presidential franchise to Northern Ireland. Though neither manifesto say how this would work practically if it were introduced (postal votes, polling stations etc, how would it happen?).
A slight surprise in this section is that the party mentions sectarianism in Northern Ireland and vows to assist in tackling it if it got into government by increasing Peace & Reconciliation fund by €2.3 million.
The manifesto does mention the Cross Border Crime Agency and voices support for tackling issues around border.
Now onto the governing party and the current holder of the Department of Foreign Affairs and if you think that this experience over the past five years would have fed into some good ideas, then you’re going to be disappointed.
To start off with the party firmly back the status quo;
The manifesto does through a curve ball by highlighting its support into an inquiry into the murder of Pat Finucane which along with the Sinn Fein manifesto is the mentions of historical legacy issues and support for a Bill of Rights.
All Island Economy
The party makes some basic commitments to review projects like Narrow Water and to continue seeking EU funding but little else;
Fine Gael is typically seen as the law and order party, so cross border crime does get a mention in this section of the manifesto. They pledge co-operation with the Executive at ministerial level and that Gardai will be properly resourced to tackle smuggling and other criminal operations along the border
Out of all the parties, Labour have the weakest Northern Ireland section (I use this term loosely) and they hold the North-South co-operation portfolio but only have this to say about the issue;
Overall, I was not expecting Northern Ireland to feature heavily in any manifesto, but it is always a good reality check to see what we potentially have coming from the next government.
Fianna Fail did a good job putting a price tag on their promises, which helps lift them out of the abstract, though I felt the Irish unification bit could have had a little bit more in it, in terms of how the party might proceed in the future.
Sinn Fein ticked the boxes they needed too with some interesting proposals and the past, but unlike the rest of their manifesto, I didn’t see costings beside the proposals which again would have lifted them out of the abstract and I would have re-organised their United Ireland section placing the green paper at the top and make it seem like a process towards the border poll (we will advance this policy by step 1, 2, 3 and 4).
The two governing parties’ manifestos I felt summed up their current approach to Northern Ireland; short, sweet and not very thought through. I was in some bits having to read twice to find exactly what they meant. Something which regardless of what you think about either the Sinn Fein or Fianna Fail plans, I never had to do.
David McCann holds a PhD in North-South relations from University of Ulster. You can follow him on twitter @dmcbfs