Did Enda shoot from the hip on the reunification question?

On the Edge

BUSY TIMES An Taoiseach Enda Kenny arriving to turn the sod on the new extension of the Sacred Heart Hospital in Castlebar recently. Pic: Keith Heneghan/Phocus.

On The Edge
Áine Ryan

MAYBE it was the fresh Atlantic air in Donegal or the fact he had escaped the hothouse atmosphere of Leinster House after a septimana horribilis in the eye of a media storm, but what the hell was Enda up to at the MacGill Summer School last week? Perhaps, it was a quick rush of blood as thoughts of the summer recess set him silly for the season where the trials and tribulations of politics are relegated to the small print of the media monsters.
Enda may have a picture of his hero Michael Collins on the wall of his Taoiseach’s office but the assassinated leader and plenipotentiary of the 1921 Treaty negotiations – which led to the border with northern Ireland – would well be forgiven for turning in his grave at one of his successor’s apparent u-turn on a united Ireland. Or maybe Enda was pulling a fast political trick and being more like Welsh wizard, British Prime Minister Lloyd George, who delivered an eleventh hour ultimatum of war which forced the hands of the Irish signatories in the early hours of December 6, 1921.
Remember that famous quote by Lord Birkenhead, from the British delegation: “I may have just signed my political death warrant,” to which Collins uttered a prescient riposte, “I may have signed my actual death warrant.”
Fortunately, Irish society has become a less dangerous place to live a century later but the political knives appear to be drawn for the Taoiseach these days. Although, on reflection, this new form of guerrilla warfare appears to be mainly media-driven but then there is the old adage ‘the pen is mightier than the sword’ or in other words, ‘social media is mightier than the kalashnikov’. (See Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s successful use of Facetime and Twitter to quash the recent coup).

SO, what exactly did Mr Kenny say at the annual Glenties gab-fest for the political elite? Departing from his prepared script he said the prospect of a future border poll on the reunification of Ireland should be included as part of the negotiations between the EU and the United Kingdom on its departure from the union. However, he stressed he did not favour such a vote at present but, significantly, compared the possibility of the North joining the Republic to the reunification of Germany in 1990, arguing that any EU-UK negotiations should take account of this possible scenario.
Unsurprisingly, his utterances caused strong reaction from Unionist politicians. Responding, the DUP MP, Ian Paisley Jr dubbed Mr Kenny’s suggestion of a border poll in the future as ‘far out, man’  - and that, instead, Ireland should be considering joining the options of the Commonwealth [of Nations], which has 53 members mainly former colonies. Paisley was not quite being a hippy about Kenny’s comments.
The Taoiseach had said the Brexit negotiations ‘should take into account the possibility, however, far out that it might be, that the clause in the Good Friday Agreement might be triggered’.
Continuing, he said: “In that if there is clear evidence of a majority of people wishing to leave the United Kingdom and join the Republic, that that should be catered for in the discussions that take place.”

‘Grasping at straws’
FROM Paisley Jr’s perspective the nationalists and unionists in Northern Ireland ‘have no interest whatsoever in a united Ireland’. He said the Republic was not in an economic position to acquire the six counties. Like other commentators, he argued that both Kenny and Gerry Adams’s leadership was in jeopardy and they were both ‘grasping at straws’ with their calls for border polls.  
Coincidentally, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin, who is in the ascendant in recent polls, has also dubbed the Brexit vote as a ‘defining moment in Northern politics’. He said  he hoped it would ‘move us towards majority support for unification, and if it does we should trigger a reunification referendum’.
So, it seems Brexit has made the border a hot political football once again. We all know the peace process needs this issue to be mauled over like a hole in the head. We all know too that the realities on the back streets of Belfast have still sectarian undercurrents which could be reignited faster than a twelfth of July bonfire. The road to proper peace and reconciliation in the north needs real and radical enfranchisement and education of the ghettoised communities from both sides of the religious divide. So stop playing politics with these people. They have suffered enough because of tribalism and political posturing.