WE surmise that, recently, Minister Leo Varadkar was snugly warm before a smouldering fire and reflecting on a marvellous night of highfalutin’ talk that he had just enjoyed in the company of his peers. God was in his heaven and everything was all right with the Coalition (except for Enda’s refusal to resign, of course) when, slowly but surely, a state of contentment filled Leo’s good self.
It was at that very moment, presumably happy and full of beans, that he picked up his half chewed pencil and purposefully wrote a speech in the style of Winston Churchill’s ‘We shall fight them on the beaches.’
A harangue certainly and it lacked a title, but as an example of inspired mental activity his oration should have been christened ‘A Warning to the Plain People of Ireland.’ Essentially, it was a stirring notification that doom was around the corner if the dreadful bounders in Sinn Fein succeeded in ‘manipulating and exploiting’ their victory in the Assembly elections.
Sinn Fein, he cautioned, would create divisions in both parts of the island and – OMG, hang on to your seats for this one – they actually would try to ‘build support North and South’! The horror, oh the horror, of that!
Worse still, the distinguished Minister for Social Protection was furious that Republicans were demanding a ‘border poll’ – which, he claimed, was nothing more than a ‘return to a mind-set when a simple sectarian majority of 50% plus one was enough to cause a change in the constitutional status of the North.’ According to Vlad, the sinister SF message was this: ‘There’s one more of us than you, so now we’re in charge. It’s our turn to dominate.’
Pavlov and Unionism
Now, Minister Varadkar is a decent old cove, not usually given to comment that is frenzied, narrow-minded, parochial, factional or bigoted. But this speech was bewildering, even if written for an event in the appropriately-named Goatstown.
It showed that for once his carefully honed political attitudes were vulnerable to the nightmarish influence of Pavlovian neo-unionism – a trait that has historically defined Blueshirtism even when the comrades were wide awake.
Even more bewildering was the fact that he seemed at odds with his leader. Last July, at the McGill summer school, Taoiseach Enda Kenny set the unity-ball rolling with a speech that raised the possibility of a border poll as part of negotiations over the UK’s departure from the European Union. One way to ensure the North remained in the EU, suggested Kenny, would be to allow it to join the Republic; although, true to form, he later rowed back on his argument.
Varadkar, who was also present at the Summer School, cautioned against holding a referendum, as it would be divisive and could undermine relations between the two communities.
Now, in this latest twist, he is apprehensive of Nationalists moving brazenly into a dominant and controlling position in the Six Counties and fears the ‘alienation of Ulster Protestants and a return to violence.’
Varadkar, however, is confident the EU will ensure that ‘the status quo’ remains in place and that it will look after the North in a pragmatic way, as it did with territories like Greenland and ‘the far-flung French overseas departments.’
Whether or not his geopolitical insight impresses the denizens of Sandy Row and the Bogside is open to question; because comparing Northerners to the inhabitants of scattered French colonies in the Indian Ocean might not be, well, entirely on the ball!
And then, there was the remarkable Blueshirt, Colm Burke, a dumped MEP and now a Senator. He also had a lash at Republicans, accusing Sinn Fein of shirking its responsibilities in these perilous days of Brexit negotiations.
And, as was predictable for a controversial politico-solicitor, he imperiously ordered Sinn Fein to form a government straightaway, instantly like, chop-chop, pronto. ‘Otherwise, Northern Ireland would be a big loser from a hard Brexit,’ he warned ominously.
Sinn Fein has yet to acknowledge his trenchant wake-up call but, as with his demand that it take up its seats at Westminster and make common cause with the SNP, Plaid Cymru and other like-minded anti-Brexit voices, the party ignored him.
Needless to say, Sinn Fein was not impressed with his allusion to the Home Rulers. ‘If it (the House of Commons) was good enough for Daniel O’Connell, Charles Parnell (sic), John Redmond and other great Irish leaders, it should be good enough for Sinn Fein,’ Burke said with what we suspect was a curled lip and a facial expression of loathing.
No to united Ireland
Yet, oddly enough, Burke made a valid point: As far as he was concerned, for Sinn Fein to talk about border polls and a united Ireland at this particular time was a diversion and an evasion of responsibility: ‘The Good Friday Agreement makes it clear that a border poll can only be called if there is strong evidence that a vote for unity would be successful. No such evidence exists,’ he said.
But, as the Leeside lawman also pointed out, the problem for unification apprentices (such as the FG rookies) is the absence of clear evidence that a majority of the North’s population wants to join a united Ireland. The polls – for what they’re worth – suggest that, demographically, there are now almost as many nationalist households (45%) as Unionist (48%), and that, whereas two-thirds of the people in the South want a united Ireland, only 30% in the North are in favour.
Which raises the possibility that Sinn Fein’s call for a border poll might be nothing more than theatre and not really on the cards.
According to Bernadette McAliskey, Sinn Fein doesn’t want a poll that it would lose.
On the other hand, she recently told the Belfast Telegraph that, in the event of a direct popular vote, it was her belief that, despite the referendum not going in Sinn Fein’s favour, ‘the party would improve its position and be set up for the next time.’
What’s more, McAliskey said it was no longer possible to look at a border poll through the old-fashioned lens of the past. The lesson of Brexit was there to be learned: ‘people were asked a question that actually didn’t relate to the complexities of their lives. They voted yes or no for a whole myriad of reasons that still have to be sorted. So the lesson is to stop asking people simplistic questions on complex issues.’
She also believed that Unionists who rejected calls for a border poll were on the wrong side of history. What they (Unionists) really needed to do was to stop running scared and to start shaping a changed future. In other words, a border poll is certainly on the cards, but not yet.