|Martin McGuinness' shifting prediction on when a united Ireland would happen shows it is not as inevitable as he would like to believe (Photo Irish News)|
Well, five minutes is clearly a long time in republican politics, because two minutes ago he shifted his position to:
I believe a united Ireland is inevitable. I have never put a date on it. It will happen when it happens and in the meantime, we have to continue on the work that we are doing within the institutions.Seriously? The work they are doing within the institutions? Sinn Fein is threatening to collapse those institutions if they don’t get their way on welfare reform. They’ve dragged the Stormont House Agreement process to a standstill. They treat the institutions as an inconvenient truth rather than an opportunity to fulfil the obligations they demand from others.
If nothing else McGuinness’s shift on the timing of the ‘inevitable’ suggests that Sinn Fein has accepted it’s going to be a long haul. That presents them with a difficulty, because protest parties—which is what Sinn Fein is—need to sustain the momentum of hope. They need voters to believe that victory is likely, rather than merely probable. They need constant success if they are to shore up their core vote as well as attracting new ones.
But, as Chris Donnelly pointed out in the Irish News on Tuesday, the combined nationalist vote has been falling at the last general, local, Euro and Assembly elections and:
the only conclusion that can be drawn is that fewer nationalists are bothering to vote than at any time since the Good Friday Agreement ushered in a new era in northern Irish politics.
any post-Agreement suspicion that Irish unity has been hindered rather than enabled will, at some point, manifest itself in a downturn in the overall nationalist vote.
The problem for Sinn Fein and the unity lobby generally is that the figures aren’t stacking up for them. Real polls, opinion polls, government and academic surveys say the same thing: there isn’t anywhere close to a majority of voters here planning to leave the United Kingdom. Worse, indeed embarrassingly worse for the unity lobby, is that a very significant section of what should be their potential voters don’t seem to want to leave the United Kingdom, either. In other words, they prefer the Brits to the Shinners. Or, to put that another way, far from boosting the prospects of unity, Sinn Fein’s tactics and arguments seem to have undermined them.
I’ve made that point to a couple of Sinn Fein audiences in the last year and was received in mostly stony silence. Fair enough, being rubbished by your guest speaker is probably quite irritating, but ignoring valid observations is plain stupid. Yet the fact that Pat Doherty was on the Nolan Show on Monday saying that Sinn Fein was talking to unionists about unity tells you all you really need to know about Sinn Fein’s present predicament. Which is that they have entered la-la land. Of course they’re not talking to unionists. Why would any unionist talk to Sinn Fein about working together in a united Ireland when every unionist knows that it isn’t going to happen any time in the foreseeable future?
No, this is just more self-serving bunkum from Sinn Fein, part of a desperate attempt to persuade their voters on both sides of the border that the old order is crumbling and that `A Nation Once Again' is something more than electoral karaoke. Look guys, however rattled you may be by the reality that Irish unity has been delayed indefinitely, the fact remains that in 1998 and again in a separate deal with the DUP in 2007, you signed up to governing a Northern Ireland that remains in the United Kingdom for so long as a majority wishes it.
You may not like it, but you agreed to it. Yep, you can still call yourself Irish and promote your unity projects, but that doesn’t absolve you from your responsibility for providing good, coherent government on this side of the border. Stop blaming the British, the unionists and just about everyone else for your own failures and failings. For now, and for a long time to come, this is as good as it gets for you.