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Editor's Viewpoint

SF's election victory brings us no closer to an agreed future

Editor's Viewpoint


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Sinn Fein president Mary Lou McDonald

Sinn Fein president Mary Lou McDonald

AFP via Getty Images

Sinn Fein president Mary Lou McDonald

Politicians are masters at interpreting any given set of circumstances in a way which suits their ideology and ignores any uncomfortable truths. That is certainly the case following the results of the general election in the Republic.

It is impossible to say anything other than it was an outstanding performance that obviously took Sinn Fein - famed for its ability to read the electorate - totally by surprise, otherwise the party would have fielded more candidates and ended up with clear green water between itself and the two traditional parties of government.

Even party president Mary Lou McDonald and deputy Michelle O'Neill admit that Sinn Fein broke the mould thanks to its concentration on social and economic issues, such as homelessness, a lack of housing and the division between the haves and have-nots.

Sinn Fein's policies appealed to young voters, in particular, who were fed up with the failed promises of Fine Gael and Fianna Fail.

While it is still too early to see even the embryonic shape of a new government in the Republic, it would be remarkable if Sinn Fein was consigned to the opposition benches.

A role in government would be the acid test for the party. Its policies may be appealing - Labour promised similar things in the UK, for all the good it did - but Sinn Fein and its partners would have to deliver. Voters now demand almost instant gratification. No excuses will wash.

Ms McDonald and Ms O'Neill tried to interpret the party's victory as a clear demand for a border poll. It was not. Voters in the Republic want a better, fairer society, rather than inheriting another jurisdiction which, at best, could have a very sizeable and reluctant minority and which cannot pay its way. Of course Sinn Fein wants to put Irish unity to the top of the agenda - that is the core reason the party exists - but that is merely a wish.

DUP leader Arlene Foster and UUP leader Steve Aiken are correct to point out that the sole person who can call a border poll is the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland - and he or she must be confident it stands a good chance of success. That circumstance does not exist a present.

The two unionist leaders are also correct to say that they want to create a better, more prosperous and more inclusive Northern Ireland. That would not only be a sensible way of combating Irish unity demands but is vital in a society which currently needs huge investment in health, education and infrastructure.

However, the unionist leaders cannot ignore the question of unity. A momentum has built up and there needs to be a mature debate about what it means for both parts of the island.

Former DUP leader Peter Robinson warned in 2018 that unionists need to debate the issue and should not fear such discussions. However, unionists today are not be convinced that their views matter to Sinn Fein.

Ms McDonald's comments that she intends to ask the EU and US administrations to press the Secretary of State and UK government to initiate a poll makes it difficult to argue against that view.

Everything may have changed in the Republic as a result of the election, yet nothing has changed on the central issue which has bedevilled both parts of the island for almost 100 years. How can two mutually exclusive political ideologies co-exist, not for selfish benefit, but for the good of all the people? Greater generosity of spirit would be a good starting point.

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