|32 county map of Ireland much as it was before a British government forced partition by threats of a terrible war.|
Finnian O Domhnaill looks at how Irish Unity could bring change to the political situation across the island.As we head closer to a general election in the South, seeing more openness to coalition by Fianna Fail Sinn Fein and a growing partnership with Fine Gael and DUP, could we be seeing somewhat of a teaming up of parties and a continuation of a two tier government in a possible united Ireland? ‘‘If it’s good enough for the DUP it’s good enough for Sinn Fein’’.
In the beginning; As the carving up of Ireland was put in place, the sectarian scar that is partition had birthed the intentionally and strategically chosen six counties to be a predominantly protestant statelet to remain in the United Kingdom leaving the remaining 26 to be a catholic dominion ironically called ‘’The Irish Free State’’ with the British Crown still remaining head of state until 1937.
The Treaty was signed in 1921 and caused a split in Sinn Fein Between those prepared to take the deal and those who were not. De Valera walked out of the Dail and took a large portion of Sinn Fein members with him, sparking the civil war. The pro treaty Sinn Fein renamed themselves Cumann na nGaedheal and lasted from 1922 to 1932. Sinn Fein went through a further spilt after De Valera proposed the removal of abstention from the Dail which divided the party. While Sinn Fein stuck with abstentionism, De Valera entered the Dail in 1927 with his new party, Fianna Fáil .
As southern unionists were left somewhat abandoned in the south especially in border counties, the Irish Unionist Alliance members and voters (formerly the Irish Conservative Party ) decided to support and/or join the pro treaty Cumann na nGaedhael party in 1922 as opposed to anti - treaty Sinn Fein and ‘republican’ Fianna Fail 5 years later. It could be argued that a unionist mentality had seeped into the Irish Free State and aided in the continued stranglehold of the British presence in Ireland.
However, in 1932 Fianna Fail became a minority government in a coalition with the Labour Party. In 1933, the previous executive dissolved and along with its unionist members, The National Centre Party and The National Guard (Blueshirts), Cumann na nGaedhael became what is today the christian democratic, liberal conservative political party, Fine Gael.
As for unionists in the north, the Irish Unionist Alliance had dominated the six counties since the foundation of the statelet. In 1921 the alliance changed it’s name to The Ulster Unionist Party (UUP).
The party reigned supreme up until 1972 before direct rule from Westminster was brought in. The UUP became divided when former member, Desmond Boal founded a party along with Ian Paisley called The Democratic Unionist Party (Formally The Protestant Unionist Party) and slowly toppled The UUP over the decades to become to leading party in the north.
Fast forward to the present day political spectrum; Ireland remains partitioned, the two main political parties Fianna Fail and Fine Gael rule the south while Sinn Fein and DUP share power (when they are not at loggerheads) in the North. As the DUP have cosied up with the Conservatives there seems to be some sort of old companionship being reunited between Fianna Fail and Sinn Fein. If its good enough for the DUP its good enough for Sinn Fein.
Last April, the Irish Times called a Fianna Fail/Sinn Fein coalition ‘’only a matter of time’’. Some Fianna Fail TD’s, including frontbenchers have come out as being open to going in to government with Sinn Fein. Other FF TD’s said they would want Gerry Adams to retire first before any discussions of a coalition could be made. Anne Rabitte said “There would have to be a change of leader, Under the current leadership, no way”. With Adams looking to be stepping down in the next few years and the former Fianna Fail Dubliner, Mary Lou Mc Donald likely to take up the role, that red line issue could be met without compromise from Sinn Fein.
As the two parties have always claimed to be a republican party, were both against the treaty and seem to be hunkering down comfortably in the political centre nowadays more than ever, there could be a real possibility of this coalition between what was quoted by George Galloway in the Late Late show about Fianna Fail and Fine Gael as ‘‘two cheeks of the same arse’’.
Fine Gael have shown lesser tolerance for Sinn Fein not just because of it’s deep ties with the IRA in the past but in present times. Enda Kenny has ruled out any coalition with Gerry Adams stating that Sinn Fein’s policies would ‘‘create huge job losses’’ and are ‘‘not fit for government’’. In contrast, the ‘‘Blueshirts’’, the pro - treatyites and converted free state unionists of old, have started a friendship with their Right Wing, Christian Democratic neighbors, the DUP in the North. In 2012, DUP Junior Minister, Jonathon Bell became the first Unionist to give a speech at the Fine Gael Ard Fheis. Applauded by the audience after referencing the Queen’s speech in Ireland, Bell said “Let us demonstrate what partnership can deliver’’. Later that year, Simon Coveney spoke at the DUP’s annual confernce. The then Agriculture Minister said "I hope we can develop the kind of friendship and kind of trust politically that's needed between the largest party in Northern Ireland and the largest party in the Republic of Ireland". Alan Shatter’s ‘Londonderry’ remark could only please the DUP even more.
So what about the future? Not since the foundation of Free State and Statelet has there been more talk in the political landscape of a united Ireland. Besides the obvious Sinn Fein rhetoric on Irish Unity, Fianna Fail have brought out their 12 point plan on reunification and have said they will run candidates in the North by 2019. People Before Profit are standing by there policy on a 32 County Socialist Republic, SDLP have upped their nationalism after their defeat at the general election with Colum Eastwood stating ‘‘Irish Unity is the biggest and best idea around’’ and his party are calling for a border poll after Brexit is fully implemented. Even Fine Gael have jumped on the band wagon with Leo Varadkar claiming that his party is a United Ireland party. As the parties on the island push ‘The Irish Question’ up their priority list it seems you can’t say united Ireland without saying inevitable.
So lets say hypothetically, what a united Ireland would look like in the political atmosphere. Going by what has been stated previously it could clearly be argued that even in a 32 county republic we would still have Fianna Fail and Fine Gael remaining as the top parties but perhaps not as powerful, being propped up by a coalition by either Sinn Fein for FF and DUP for FG.
Merging of parties; In this ‘new’ Ireland, it could be possible that the Dup and UUP would merge together calling themselves simply as ‘The Unionist Party’. Some Independent unionists along with the Progressive Unionist Party and Conservative Party members may also merge or dissolve completely. The real ‘hardliners’, TUV would merely fade away as they would not be able to stomach the Dail though some may move to the ‘darkside’ and work within a united Ireland. This will most likely go the other way with supporters, members, even MLA’s and MP’s turning their backs on their parties resulting in a small split in unionism.
We could also see another merger of the SDLP and Labour. As these two parties have a close affiliation with one another it is most likely that they would join together in a united Ireland. Ironically this new ‘Labour Party’ could be used again to be included in a Fine Gael/Unionist or Fianna Fail/Sinn Fein coalition. As Labour have worked with and has previously been in government with Fine Gael, SDLP working with Unionists and even talked about a merger with Fianna Fail, The, (lets call them) ‘United Labour Party’ could swing in any direction.
Smaller parties; Out of the possible 7th and 8th largest parties, The Green Party and Alliance Party could play its part in tipping the scale of power in Ireland. The Green Party would more than likely merge into one party in a 32 County Republic as it would be pointless to have two separate Green Parties in one country, Leaving them about par with Alliance. Both parties have no green or orange allegiance and have worked with other parties openly in both the North and South. Alliance could make inroads in the South but may take some time while the Greens tend to fluctuate in the south with 2 seats in the last southern election and none in the one previous.
In the South, the Social Democrats and Renua Ireland may not survive in a new Ireland and could possibly dissolve or merge with another party. Social Democrats founding member, Stephen Donnelly moved to Fianna Fail, leaving his former party with only two seats. Renua Ireland lost all three seats in the 2016 election.
As an all island party, AAA - PBP seem set on not shifting in their policies and only want to see a 32 County Socialist Republic, They could be seen as too left even for the left. Currently, the party have 6 seats in the Dail and only 1 in Stormont. As the only party in Ireland who seem unwilling to compromise and are fully against the largest parties both North and South, it will be likely that the new shorter named ‘People Before Profit’ would stand alone once again in a united Ireland.
In the end; A united Ireland might not be what some believe as the simple amalgamation of the six counties merging into the 26 but rather the 26 merging into the politically sectarian minefield that is the North. With a possible Fine Gael/Unionist or Fianna Fail/Sinn Fein coalition government in a united Ireland, it could well pit the old divide once more of Republican Nationalism against right wing capitalist unionism; with the new ‘United Labour Party’ and their flexible socialism tipping the balance of power on occasions where the margins aren’t enough for a victor; leaving people before profit, so called ‘Dissident Republicans’ and other socialist groups out in the political wilderness screaming out at their ignorant, lost comrades for not joining them to make real change but instead selling out for a place on the throne. A nation once again or perhaps just a little bit of history repeating?
(Combining Number of votes taking from results of North/South elections 2016.)
Fianna Fail/Sinn Fein 1,038,920
Fine Gael/Unionists 872,867
United Labour Party 236,851
People Before Profit 98,268 Green Party 76,526 Alliance Party 72,717
Finnian O Domhnaill (Finnian O'Donnell) is political writer from Donegal, currently living in Derry, he is the creator of the political page No Bones About It. Thanks to AM for heads-up.