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Brian John Spencer

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Sinn Fein: Ireland's Ukip

Posted: 24/01/2013 00:00

Times are hard in Ireland. Households are massively indebted. Corporations are covered in red ink. The economy is flat and the Dublin government is struggling to keep afloat under the strict terms of the EU-ECB-IMF bailout programme.

In a few words: Ireland is one of the most economically encumbered countries in the world.

But against this depressingly gloomy backdrop Sinn Fein now want a border poll. Instead of focusing on growing the economy, creating jobs, establishing economic stability and rebuilding Ireland's credibility abroad - which everyone wants - they're now focusing on re-opening the old debate and picking an old wound - which very few want.

The campaign for a referendum on Irish unity was launched in Dublin by the leader of Sinn Fein, Gerry Adams TD on Saturday 19 January 2013. Outside Sinn Fein ranks, the move has been met with a large measure of criticism from both unionists and nationalists.

Irish deputy Prime Minister, Tánaiste Eamonn Gilmore, called it "unwise and ill-timed". Michael Martin TD leader of Fianna Fail, the most republican minded of all Ireland's political parties after Sinn Fein, called the announcement "bogus." Saying that the party's move was neither sincere nor genuine.

DUP Minister for Enterprise Arlene Foster rightly called it "politics for the optics". But it's bad for more than just a weighty and compelling economic argument.

It's bad for two other core reasons.

Firstly, the popular will doesn't want it. As Matt Cooper writing in the Sunday Times rightly said: "Recent census data does not lend itself to the idea that even a Catholic majority in Northern Ireland would automatically translate into a vote in favour of a 32-county state."

That is of course the census in which 25% of respondents in Northern Ireland regarded themselves as 'Irish only.' And these are the census results which came on the tail of the Life and Times Survey of June 2011 which revealed that 73% of people in Northern Ireland wanted to remain in the UK.

Secondly, it's bad because it will do nothing but divide and retrench opinions further and heighten already heightened sectarian tensions. Real responsible politics then...

But the drive for a border poll in the face of hard facts and against the backdrop of a divided society merely further exposes what Sinn Fein is all about.

Firstly, to echo Michael Martin TD, it shows that Sinn Fein is a self-serving and self-interested party.

To govern effectively politicians need to offer a package of broadly mainstream, consensus and centre ground policies. But to push the referendum card is swing to the fringes and to alienate and cut off a huge chunk of the Northern Ireland populace.

But I suppose Sinn Fein's self-interested politics is just part of their genetic make up. Sinn Fein does after all translate into: us alone.

Secondly, they are a party wedded to destabilisation, whether it be by the gun or the ballot box.

Sinn Fein knew that restricting the flying of the British flag would rile their protestant counterparts. But that's long been a core tactic in their wider all-Ireland strategy: to destabilise and cause confusion in the ranks of the pan-unionist community.

Pushing the Irish unity debate will only rile unionists further and rock the Northern Ireland boat even more.

Thirdly it shows what Sinn Fein is really about: that they're a one-policy protest party. In the face of facts that say people in Northern Ireland have largely moved on they still want to turn back to that old issue.

People living on Main Street in Northern Ireland want to move forward together and compete in a global economy; they do not want to retreat back into the trenches as politicians revert to the inward looking politics of old.

The idea of a united Ireland is the idea under which Sinn Fein was conceived. It has motivated their politics and ideas ever since. But such ideological absolutism means that Sinn Fein is not a party of productive or progressive governance.

The drive for Irish unity is regressive and isolationist. And so Sinn Fein, in a few words, have no more to offer people than the UK Independence Party do.

Yes Sinn Fein have other policies but these are merely cosmetic and have been engineered as a means to their end goal: Northern Ireland secession from the UK and Irish unity.

We recently saw British PM David Cameron pledge to deliver a referendum on the EU question in 2017. So now in a sense UKip have won. They have gained their living and dying wish. But what political ground do UKip now occupy other than a cage rattling protest party?

The question applies to Sinn Fein. Even if Sinn Fein were granted their wish for a border poll, what role would they serve after the said referendum? In reality they have little to offer to pragmatic and progressive society.

Very few in Northern Ireland want to bring an end to partition. They want more from life under their new and evolving Northern Irish identity. They want to move forward collectively with inclusive and mutually interested policies. By raising the spectre of Irish unity once again Sinn Fein is risking peace, stability and prosperity.

I will conclude with a few wise words that came from former US President Ronald Reagan. He said: "If history teaches us anything, it teaches self-delusion in the face of facts is folly."

 

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