The Unity Genie is Out of the Bottle: What do Unionism and Southern Parties do Next?

As we fast approach the local council elections, it’s important to assess what the results might tell us about the future of Stormont and power-sharing as a whole. Will the council elections show a growth in the Nationalist vote? And/or will we finally see a breakthrough in middle ground voters, against the vacuum and groundhog day of our local politics?

I do not need to inform all where we’re at and why. We all have slightly different takes on this, and it isn’t the crux of my first published contribution to this site.

But we all can agree (I hope) that there is a growing and public discussion of Irish unity within Irish Nationalism. Where previously unity was usually only given lip service by southern parties in conferences or historical republican events, by SF (well almost daily) and those in local public houses when a ballad came on the jukebox or was played by musicians on a Saturday night.

Brexit, and its final framework, are going to have a major impact on the strategic views of moderate Nationalists and middle ground voters. Most of us agree on this, and at a personal level, I have seen middle ground friends – on both sides – and those living abroad actually discussing unity. They are not signing up to unity focused parties, but many are talking seriously about the idea. Seeds have been planted.

Currently Unionism is being driven by the DUP, to the support and dismay or many a Unionist and Nationalist, and not in that particular order!

To use a ‘Mickism’, a vacuum has been created and, in my view, this vacuum (and how Brexit has been handled (that term is too kind)) has enabled this discussion.

If we had a fully functional local assembly during Brexit, the unity discussions would not be as regular and entertained from the middle ground to moderate Nationalists.  There has been many a posting and discussion about the failures of SF in this trying time, but not enough (imho) on the failures of Unionism with respect to disabling the discussion.

So what does Unionism do?  How do they get the genie back in the bottle?  Where is the leadership within the DUP and Unionism to do what many organisations need, to make the hard decisions and calls for the good of the group? To make the strategic decision to accept same sex marriage, a culture act, in order to put the genie back in the bottle?

History is full of leaders who made the hard calls which resulted on them falling on their sword, or survived, for the benefit of their organisation and their primary goals.

History is also filled with groups who failed to adapt to change and ultimately paid the price.

Time will tell.

As for the southern parties. What do FF and FG do with this genie, who is now out and being discussed by all? In terms of their ethos, both are technically pro-unity parties. So by default, they shouldn’t want to put the genie back in the bottle. But life is never black nor white.

Many would argue the main parties have not dealt with partition over the past 100 years. But I encourage you to read The Border by Diarmaid Ferriter – a fantastic book, no matter your political views. This book clearly identifies the various approaches of Irish governments (FF and FG) since partition, with the Irish Government showing relative indifference towards the north, despite warm words.

In the present, they are balancing Brexit with a growing conversion on unity. Southern voters may punish them for a bad Brexit, and not for being vocal on a unity poll – particularly when Brexit and it’s conditions are unknown. But at the same time, too much enthusiasm for unity – with the economic questions this raises – may not go down well with some groups of voters.

FG has a harder task that FF, who have stood on the side lines as opposition, hurling from the ditch, whilst striking up a ‘partnership’ with the SDLP. Both are echoing the GFA (rightly so) but in times where Westminster has played fast and loose with the north, the calls are ring hollow amongst Northern Nationalists, particularly when their partner (the British Government) are acting as they currently are with Brexit.

They are both simply watching this space.

FF have taken a footing in the SDLP, as a ‘partnership’ that is yet to be tested, whilst FG have launched recently in Queens and Leo has made many a visit, particularly on social issues and rights up north. Leo has impressed various groups, whether by his handling of Brexit, his meeting the Orange Order, or attending Pride in Belfast.

My opinion is that we won’t see FF or FG stand on their own in the north until one or all of the following happens:

1. There is a seismic change in voting patterns towards unity parties.

2. The SOS calls for a border poll.

3. SF enter the Dáil in government and/or threaten FF significantly in elections.

For northern Nationalists, these are significant. They all require a lot of work locally. I personally believe we can’t grow the discussion, within out the involvement of FF and FG, so it’s very much a catch 22.

So, like all, I will be sitting back, watching the local elections with much interest. Wondering how the results bode for Stormont and the coming challenges ahead.

Oggins is nationalist in his late 30s, who has no links, (or ever has) to any political parties. Has lived and worked in the UK, Ireland, Australia and Europe in various industries as a business and continuous improvement consultant. A strong believer in having further representation from southern parties in the North, and passionate about the removal of sectarianism and tribalism from politics. A retired rugby and gaelic football player, who’s main hobbies are reading, weight lifting and fixing his house.