Sinn Féin is now in a strong all-Ireland position

Posted By: March 26, 2017

Patrick Murphy.Irish News. Belfast. Saturday, March 25, 2017
IF the present state of Irish politics teaches us anything, it is that no-one could have foreseen the present state of Irish politics.

It is the outcome of a series of random and unpredictable events at home and abroad in recent months, which have produced an unusual degree of political flux.

Ireland’s future has rarely been more uncertain.

One of the greatest areas of uncertainty surrounds Stormont and the impact, if any, which the sad and untimely death of Martin McGuinness might have on its long-term future.

As many politicians, both friend and foe, pointed out this week, he had a wonderful ability to reach a political solution. In a society in which politics is nine parts personality and one part policy, many now agree that, to a significant extent, Stormont was shaped by that personality.

Had he lived, we would normally have expected Stormont to return soon, after some extended deadlines.

But this time, things are different, not just because of his absence but because recent random events here and in Britain have dramatically changed the political situation, north, and south.

Events which have changed the Northern political landscape include the lack of public confidence in Stormont following the RHI scandal and continuing Nationalist anger at Arlene Foster, tempered only by her attendance at Martin McGuinness’s funeral.

Equally significant has been the loss of the Unionist majority at Stormont, which might tempt the DUP to hold out for a second Assembly election, in the hope of performing significantly better.

In The South, Enda Kenny’s fragile leadership position within Fine Gael leaves the future of his minority coalition increasingly insecure. An election is almost certain within the next year.

Sinn Féin’s standing in the polls puts it in a strong position for joining the next government there, but much depends on how it plays its hand in The North.

Would it be better to distance itself from an under-performing Stormont or would it appear more responsible to reach a compromise with the DUP and return to government? Stormont’s future culture and operation now rests increasingly on events in Dublin.

Perhaps the most unpredictable aspect of our future has been caused by Brexit. While it was clear that Britain was uncomfortable with the EU concept of a single European state, few envisaged that the British government would also leave the single market.

Brexit has once again placed the Border at the heart of Irish politics. SF is now leading the campaign, North and South, to solve the challenge of a new economic border by advocating the removal of the long-established political one.

The party’s success in setting the political agenda in both Irish states has already had an impact in Dublin.

Ninety years after it was founded, Fianna Fáil is now “working on” a 12-point plan for a united Ireland.

Among its 12 points will be an all-Ireland schools curriculum, beginning with history (that should be interesting) and English (but not Irish).

Not to be outdone, Fine Gael is proposing to allow Irish citizens across the world, including in The North, the right to vote in Irish presidential elections.

Although both parties’ tactics are an attempt to head off Sinn Féin’s campaign for a Border poll, their belated efforts to highlight post-Brexit partition may do more to boost Sinn Féin’s campaign than to subvert it.

Meanwhile, in The North, the possibility of Scottish independence leaves Unionism unsure of its future and the loss of its parliamentary majority in Belfast has not yet been commented on by loyalist paramilitaries.

We can only await their reaction to the idea of special EU status for a Northern Ireland possibly linked only to England and Wales.

If we throw in Donald Trump’s stated policy of returning jobs to America, the future of the Irish economy, North and South, represents additional uncertainty in a changing global economy.

However, out of chaos comes opportunity and the greatest chance to influence events would appear to lie with Sinn Féin, which is now in a strong all-Ireland position. Although it took advantage of any opportunities which came its way, it would appear to have benefited from a unique set of unforeseen circumstances.

What it decides this weekend and over the next few months will clarify at least part of Ireland’s future. You might argue that what Sinn Féin now needs is a plan, but recent events would suggest otherwise.

In what might have been a reference to Ireland’s present political situation, Mark Twain said that predictions are hard to make, especially about the future.

In that context Sinn Féin’s best plan might be not to have one. Well, not just yet.