Fionnbharr Rodgers, Contributor.
The current strategy of Sinn Féin is very much like the last. Though the armalites have been buried, and the ballot boxes coveted, they still look towards the possibilities of reunification in the most optimistic manner and thus call for a border poll as routinely as The Angelus plays on RTÉ.
This is the same strategy of the SNP, though Sinn Féin wear it better, it must be said.
It is therefore not a grand leap of logic to explain why, when Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said on his recent visit Northwards that he ‘‘wouldn’t like us to get to the point whereby we are changing the constitutional position on a fifty percent plus one basis,’’ he was met with ire.
Conor Murphy, MLA for Newry and Armagh, responded that the ‘‘Good Friday Agreement is absolutely clear in enshrining the right of the Irish people to self-determination through referenda, north and south – if a simple majority vote in favour of reunification, both governments are obliged to legislate for it.’’ The irony of Mr. Murphy’s evocation of the Good Friday Agreement, in this manner, may have been lost on him, yet that didn’t stop it from dancing merrily around him to the tune of a Tommy Makem number all the while he made his statement. As SDLP Leader, Colum Eastwood pointed out the Agreement also holds that reunification must be predicated on the principle of consent. Surely the consent of the bare majority while a good forty percent of the population are left to their own resentment would be a mockery of that very principle. Certainly it would be a contradiction of the principles of republicanism, of which the protection of minority rights is an important part.
If Mr. Murphy’s comments are to be taken as representative of his party, then such unfortunately renders recent sentiments expressed by Gerry Adams to be rather redundant.
At the start of the year, at a meeting in Bellini’s in Newry, Mr. Adams asked those gathered for a show of hands of all those who had spoken to a unionist in the last week and, after a smattering of hands had appeared above the heads of their owners, Adams went on to encourage those to reach out.
More recently, at a book launch in September about the hunger strikes, Adams spoke of the importance of presenting ‘convincing and cogent arguments’ in favour of reunification.
‘‘We have to engage with unionism and seek to persuade that part of our society to support Irish unity,’’ said he.
Reunification based upon a simple majority in a border poll is not a cogent argument, but effectively proves true the unionist notion that they would have no place in a United Ireland and would be treated as nationalists were for the first decades of Northern Ireland’s history.
Now there has been a tendency of Sinn Féin’s message to differ in its public persona from its private one, but such sentiments expressed by the Leader were at least a step in the right direction. That direction being the one walked down by John Hume throughout the last five decades.
In his 1996 book, A New Ireland, Hume defined the sort of view of unity expressed above as mere ‘conquest, assimilation, and triumphalism,’ rather than a true unity of the people. He also lamented that ‘leadership has been the comfortable leadership of flags and slogans,’ which is also most certainly true of the DUP, but there is a subject which deserves its own article.
This is something which should be resisted by nationalists, as the Irish nation is more than the mere sum of its geographic boundaries, beautiful though the coast is, but a recognition of its people and their present state as well as potential capacity.
Thomas Davis believed that the only prerequisite to membership of the Irish nation, not creed nor class, or old school tie, but simply allowing oneself to be a part of it; the Proclamation of 1916 itself swore the Irish Republic to ‘cherishing all the children of the nation equally,’ more recently, Mary Robinson placed a candle in the window of the Áras as a beacon to the Irish abroad, which still sits on its sill in the west wing. The outward-looking and cosmopolitan tradition of Irish nationalism, championed by towering figures from Daniel O’Connell to Hume, is too often ignored by many, and should to a far greater extent be cherished and strived towards.
The notion of de Valera that unionists could simply be ignored was a delusion borne of sheer ignorance, and their own British patriotism must be recognised and respected. To address concerns expressed in recent articles by Alex Kane for the Newsletter, the goal of Republicanism should not be to remove the Britishness of unionists but to welcome them to back to Irishness. The likes of Carson, Craig, and Henry Wilson held an Irishness in their hearts and minds, alongside a sense of belonging to the union. The wider scope of history serves as evidence against the notion that Irishness and Britishness are mutually exclusive concepts.
The fact is now that there are a portion of unionists, their thinking shaped by the border, see ‘Ireland’ as a foreign country to their own, and that notion will not evaporate the day after a border poll garners that acclaimed 51%.
There is no virtue in simplifying the path to the realisation of ones aspirations; and the Good Friday Agreement was not built to the same design as the pick ‘n’ mix counter at Woolworths.