Political posturing over a united Ireland

On the Edge

HOLLOW CHORUS Tánaiste Leo Varadkar’s declaration that he thinks he will see a united Ireland in his lifetime has been seen as a cynical, self-serving political move. Pic: Flickr.com/Annika Haas/EU2017EE

On The Edge
Áine Ryan

YOU don’t need to be a cynic to smirk wryly at Tánaiste Leo Varadkar’s surprise announcement that he thinks he will see a united Ireland in his lifetime. Interestingly, it did come three days after a Sunday Times Behaviour & Attitudes poll put Sinn Féin a daunting 10 percent ahead of the main parties.
Such snapshots wouldn’t suit Leo’s plans to take the helm again late next year.
Although perhaps it was a cunning Plan B lest Fianna Fáil topples further down the ladder of political oblivion and the Greens continue to scupper their muesli-eating, sandal-wearing image of loving everyone, even their own detracting membership. A Fine Gael and Sinn Féin coalition? Never say never.

Forgive the Realpolitik
After watching Michael Portillo’s excellent programme on RTÉ One last week explaining the decades of manoeuvring that led to partition and the six counties, one has to despair at the ongoing impasse and political divisions. The North was even more of a pawn for the British than this interested writer realised.
If it was only as simple as the signing by 500,000 of the Ulster Covenant of 1912 in opposition to Home Rule, or the fomenting of rebellion by British conservatives that led to the Curragh Mutiny of 1914, but these machinations have many tentacles in the sorry story of this country’s colonisation by an imperial power.
But how can it still be such a political football? Have there been no lessons learned? How can it still be used so cynically by a variety of political parties in such a self-serving way? Of course, the bungling Brexit negotiations further complicated the issue with the partition of this island giving the EU its only land border with the UK.
It is really no surprise that Varadkar was strongly criticised for his pro-united Ireland speech in his opening address to the Fine Gael Ard Fheis last week. It was made just days after the former leader of the DUP Arlene Foster stepped down from her position – after a heave, mind you – because her increasingly open-minded positions didn’t suit the more conservative and fundamentalist elements of the party. Now, with the  resignation of creationist Edwin Poots and the Northern Ireland Executive on the edge of collapsing once again, the sense of deja-vu is mind-numbing and dispiriting.  .
Arguing that whilst the views of Unionists must be ‘acknowledged, understood and respected’, Leo said ‘no one group can have a veto on Ireland’s future’. Thus he opined that that ‘the unification of our island’ could happen in his lifetime.
With varying ripostes from Unionist politicians regarding the issue of consent and the Good Friday Agreement, the party-political posturing of Varadkar’s rhetoric became clearer as his online speech continued.
Rejecting Sinn Féin’s ‘crude vision’ of anti-British nationalism, he said ‘unification must not be the annexation of Northern Ireland’. Varadkar continued: “It means something more, a new state designed together, a new constitution and one that reflects the diversity of a bi-national or multinational state in which almost a million people are British. Like the New South Africa, a rainbow nation, not just orange and green.”
Well, one thing for sure is, we all know the New South Africa isn’t a panacea, despite the inspirational and symbolic leadership of the late Nelson Mandela.
Indeed, the deaths of of both Ian Paisley Snr and Martin McGuinness, with their eleventh-hour morphing into the Chuckle Brothers, has left a big vacuum. So has the passing of Nobel Laureate John Hume, of course. Unfortunately, there has been nobody of their stature stepping in to their shoes since.
Surely, Leo can rein in his political ambitions and not resort to a hollow chorus about the future of the North when the very existence of its executive is once again in jeopardy because of newly opened fissures between nationalists and unionists.