In this week’s paper, Sinn Fein MP Paul Maskey is inviting people to attend his party’s London conference Towards a United Ireland which will be held at the TUC’s headquarters, Congress House, in Central London. It is part of an established campaign by Northern Ireland’s second largest party to reframe its Irish unity argument with a greater EU dimension in the wake of the Brexit vote.
There is no doubt the narrow English nationalism that has spurred Brexit and so tied Prime Minister Theresa May’s hands has caused many Northern Irish nationalists to reconsider their long-held opposition to Sinn Fein’s absolutism. And it has been strategically canny to pivot away from the traditional notions of a united Ireland that would have seemed to many voters in Northern Ireland as Catholic and inward looking.
After all, today’s Ireland is – for the most part – the very model of a modern European state.
Sinn Fein is saying to people that supporting their cause is to be part of wider, more inclusive Europe, not a narrow, protectionist England. But as so often before the party, in its zeal and enthusiasm, can seem perilously close to overlooking that which was the defining principle of ALL of the breakthroughs in Northern Ireland’s long and tortuous peace process – the principle of consent.
Acting as if force majeure and history are all on the side of ‘inevitable’ Irish unity can only intimidate many thoughtful Unionist, pro-Remain, Unionist voters and it will only ever be counterproductive to let them think they will inevitably be coerced into becoming part of a country to which they do not – at present, at least – wish to belong.
Of all people, Nationalists in Northern Ireland should appreciate that more than most.