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Fianna Fail can alter electoral landscape

Editor's Viewpoint

Published 12/09/2016

Micheal Martin
Micheal Martin

There is a sense in Northern Ireland that the political process is bedding down after years of recurrent crises. The sheer domination of the DUP and Sinn Fein at the polls means we have a settled government and, in this current climate, both parties seem determined to use their mandate positively.

Although the Ulster Unionists and the SDLP are now the Opposition, this in some ways gives them the potential for a new impetus. Unfettered by having the responsibility of implementing policy ideas, they can at least bring fresh suggestions to the Assembly, as the UUP has done. Mike Nesbitt has embraced the role of Opposition with greater vigour than SDLP counterpart Colum Eastwood, and whether all the ideas in his new policy document are viable or not, the ball is now in the court of the DUP and Sinn Fein, who cannot casually bat them away without debate, for such disdain may not sit too well with the electorate.

However, the real and exciting development in the political arena comes from south of the border with Fianna Fail saying it hopes to contest council elections here in 2019.

Cynics might argue that outside parties - notably the Conservatives - have made little impact on the traditional political landscape of Northern Ireland, but Fianna Fail's proposed entry would be very different.

For a start, it would be able to tap into the nationalist aspiration for a united Ireland, an aspiration shared by Sinn Fein and SDLP voters. Unionist voters have found the DUP and UUP sufficient bulwarks against any break-up of the Union, hence the failure of the Tories to have any real appeal locally.

But Fianna Fail is one of the big beasts of Dublin's politics, and many northern nationalists may feel it is better placed to deliver on Irish unity ultimately than either Sinn Fein or the SDLP, hitting their electoral heartlands.

Yet, what does Irish unity mean in the modern world? Is it the simple disappearance of the border, or is it more a unity of purpose rather than a single landmass? Could it be two political institutions - the Dail and Stormont - working on areas of mutual interest?

The worst case scenario would be that unionists would be unsettled, making them retrench rather than reach out. The only thing that is certain is that it will invigorate the electoral scene, and local parties will have to seriously consider the implications for both them and their opponents.

Belfast Telegraph

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