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A united Ireland would need some joined-up thinking

When Theodore Roosevelt made his case for a new nationalism in the United States 100 years ago, he did so by arguing that only a powerful federal government could regulate the economy and guarantee social justice.

His speech in Osawatomie, Kansas is regarded as one of the most radical addresses ever given by a US president.

Calling for a "square deal" for workers, including rigorous government regulation of the workplace, Roosevelt declared that "the citizens of the United States must effectively control the mighty commercial forces".

With thinking way ahead of his time and his colleagues in the Republican Party, he formed the liberal Progressive Party.

A century later, the results of a wide-ranging Belfast Telegraph/ LucidTalk opinion poll would seem to suggest a new progressive nationalism is required here.

With less than half (48%) of Catholics in favour of a united Ireland, even in 20 years' time, never mind by 2016, it seems mainstream nationalist parties are out of step with their electorate. But we shouldn't be surprised. How can anyone be expected to back something when they have no idea what it is they are meant to be supporting?

In reality, it has been many years since serious thought has been put into the actualities of a united Ireland by any of the nationalist parties.

Sinn Fein recently unveiled its seven-point plan for unity. However, their talk of consensus-building and persuasion only served to provide seven further examples of how far behind the SDLP it was on the issue, while the SDLP has failed to advance its policy since its 2005 publication of A United Ireland and the Agreement.

In the south, reunification is off the agenda in light of the financial crisis. However, deep and meaningful thought is still required on the subject and real and credible ideas are required as to how a united Ireland would function.

For example, how would its economy survive? What would an all-island health service look like? How would education and policing work?

Failing to start this debate and engaging in platitudes has a rather more serious consequence in that allows dissidents to fill the vacuum.

As Sinn Fein steals the SDLP's clothes and the SDLP complain about it, dissidents seek to recruit a new generation with the lie that only they and their continuing violence are seeking a united Ireland.

Their murderous attacks on police will have contributed to the worrying statistic that the majority of people surveyed refused to reveal if they would encourage a close relative to join the police.

Earlier this year, a peace monitoring report funded by the Joseph Rowntree Trust concluded the policing deal was not secure due to the fact that Catholic members of the PSNI are not representative of the nationalist population as a whole and because their drop-out rate is higher than that for Protestants.

However, full support is essential, in addition to ensuring that, when the current recruitment freeze ends, measures are put in place to ensure the PSNI is fully representative of the whole community.

The poll findings serve as a reminder that political backing and efforts by nationalist community activists are still required to ensure the continuation of addressing traditional divisions and avoiding slipping backwards.

There can be no room for equivocation or discrepancy between public statements of support and community messages of suspicion with regards to the PSNI.

The message should be simple: the true Irish patriots serving the peace in the new Ireland are the men and women of the PSNI.

Given that more than half (54%) of Catholics who answered said they would not encourage a close relative to join the police, it is clear that support for the police needs to extend to joining them. Only with this type of thinking will the new Ireland evolve.

Political evolution will grow apace in the next 10 years - especially in the context of the decade of commemorations opening up all sorts of possibilities.

In spite of only 27% of people wanting to see parties from the Republic and Great Britain contest elections in Northern Ireland, this is inevitable.

Sinn Fein's all-island project gives them a clear upper hand over their rivals. The stance regarding meeting the Queen is a sign of further progress.

It must have dawned upon some in Connolly House, as they look to make inroads into key constituencies like Foyle, where the likes of John Hume and Mark Durkan have been elected for almost 30 years, that meeting the Queen might not do Martin McGuinness much harm, either - especially if he eyes up a return to his home electoral ground in the future.

As Micheal Martin contemplates his programme for rebuilding and rebranding Fianna Fail, entering the political fray in the north must come back onto his agenda - if only as a method to countering Sinn Fein. The British Labour Party and the Tories are eager to make their mark.

It is often said that the public are ahead of the parties in terms of their thinking. As the results of the Belfast Telegraph/LucidTalk opinion poll demonstrate, nationalist politics needs to get radical - or it risks getting left behind.