Sinn Féin will table a ‘Green Paper’ on Irish unity at Cabinet after entering government in Dublin after the next General Election in the South, where, once a ‘United Ireland’ is achieved, unionists will be in the coalition talks mix following every ensuing Dáil poll for the foreseeable future.
That’s the plan, anyway, according to Sinn Féin TD for Cork South-Central, Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire, who confirmed to an audience in the Bogside this week that his party believes its strategy of ending partition by wielding power both North and South is very much on course, following extremely positive election results over recent months.
Mr. Ó Laoghaire was among the participants in the last of a series of talks organised as part of the 25th Gasyard Féile.
He was joined by Derry businessman John McGowan, former Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) deputy chairman Terry Wright, and former victims commissioner Patricia McBride, for a debate on an ‘Ireland - An Agreed Future’ in the Pilots’ Row centre on Monday evening.
Mr. Ó Laoghaire echoed George Galloway who, five days earlier in the same venue, quoted Lenin’s observation that there sometimes came “decades when nothing happened and weeks when decades happened”.
“The last year or two has had enormous significance for Irish politics, for politics in the North, and for politics in Britain,” said Mr. Ó Laoghaire.
“I think [events] have very much changed the dynamics in Ireland, in Britain, and in terms of the relationships between the two, but I also think it’s true to say that the next few years will also see decisions that will potentially be of even greater significance and could change the course of Irish history,” he added.
The Cork republican said he believed a ‘United Ireland’ was inevitable but cautioned that it was something that needed to be achieved through activism and persuasion.
London’s decision to remove the North from the European Union against the wishes of the majority of its population changed the “political context very dramatically” and provided republicans with an opportunity, he suggested.
“Brexit is the obvious factor. The fact that the North is being taken out of the EU against its will, the implications for the border, the possibility of a hard border, and indeed on relations between the Irish state and the British state [are factors],” he said.
The Sinn Féin representative said his party would continue to agitate against Brexit at all levels of democratic assembly from local councils to Brussels and Strasbourg.
But he also indicated that one of his party’s primary objectives was to be in government in Dublin as soon as possible in order to move to end partition.
“We would be seeking to take concrete steps, producing a Green Paper on Irish unity [one’s already been prepared] that would maximise cross-border cooperation, that would, in short, be an advocate for Irish unity, rather than simply having it as a stated policy preference, that would actively pursue Irish unity.”
He suggested the Irish government should already have adopted Sinn Féin’s Green Paper but promised his party would do so once in power.
Having sketched Sinn Féin’s strategy for achieving its principal objective, Mr. Ó Laoghaire also cited what, he argued, were insistent economic arguments for unification.
Mr. Ó Laoghaire pointed to Dr. Kurt Hübner and Dr. Renger Van Nieuwkoop’s ‘Modelling Irish Unification’ paper of 2015, which estimated that “in total, Irish unification could boost all-island GDP in the first eight years by as much as 35.6 billion Euro”.
“The people we must convince are those who are opposed, who are ambivalent, we must persuade them of the benefits of Irish unity for its economic benefits and I think that the case on that is becoming stronger all the time,” he said.
“The report by Kurt Hübner was a very convincing piece of work.
“I think we need to convince them that it works for jobs, for agriculture, for industry and investment,” he said.
Equally, Mr. Ó Laoghaire suggested a ‘United Ireland’ would remove the democratic deficit currently suffered by the North’s 1.8million people returning representatives to an overseas multi-national parliament that represents 65million people.
He observed that the North would return around 28 per cent of representatives to any new All-Ireland parliament created in the event of Irish unity, and that unionists would make up approximately 14 per cent of that quota.
“A unionist party or a party representing that tradition in a ‘United Ireland’ would have to be considered in any coalition negotiations in any election that came up and if the unionist electorate fragmented and started to vote for a broader range of political parties representing a broader view [political parties] would have to take account of that,” he said.
Mr. Ó Laoghaire’s conviction that a ‘United Ireland’ makes sense economically was shared by Mr. McGowan (Here), however, one of those he needs to convince wasn’t so sure.
Mr. Wright, who professed himself a UK republican said the very failure of the North economically - it requires a £10billion annual bail our from the British exchequer - made him seriously doubt the prospective economic prospects of a United Ireland.
He also suggested the ongoing failure of nationalists and unionists to agree a shared cross-party power-sharing platform at Stormont didn’t bode well for republicans trying to persuade unionists to support a United Ireland.
“The current impasse at Stormont would suggest that finding agreement would be a huge ask. It speaks for itself at present, a lack of trust is destructive of any foundation, on which any possible future can be built and sustained. So, maybe before we get an ‘Agreed Ireland’ we might try to get an ‘Agreed Stormont ‘first.”
Mr. Wright also pointed out how economics was only half the story, noting that deep-grained mindsets could be unshifting on both sides.
He remembered recently asking a veteran unionist councillor how they normally sold the Union to electors on the doorsteps while on canvas.
“I asked him: if you’re a unionist and you’re on a doorstep and you have to convince someone why they should vote ‘Union’, for the Ulster Unionist Party, what would you say?”
“This is what he said: ‘My grandfather was a unionist, my father was a unionist, I’m a unionist, I was born a unionist, and will die a unionist’.
“Most of us were pulling our hair out by the time he’d finished,” said Mr. Wright.
Mrs. McBride, a self-professed republican whose father Frank died after being shot by loyalists in 1972, and whose brother Antony was killed by the SAS while on IRA service with Derry republican, Kieran Fleming, in 1984, agreed making the case for a ‘United Ireland’ to those who need to be persuaded won’t be easy.
“If we’re talking about an ’Agreed Ireland’, the first step is who do we need to bring along with us. The clear answer is the unionist community in the North of the island,” said Ms. McBride.
She said an ‘Agreed Ireland’ - by definition - couldn’t be proscriptive.
“An agreed Ireland is about a rights-based approach to creating a new society and, within that, we have to take into consideration the economic, social and cultural impact on the citizens,” she said.