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Suzanne Breen

Ultimate victory far off for Sinn Fein unless Brexit proves to be disastrous

Suzanne Breen


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A Sinn Fein poster proposing Irish unity as a solution to Brexit (Brian Lawless/PA)

A Sinn Fein poster proposing Irish unity as a solution to Brexit (Brian Lawless/PA)

PA Wire/PA Images

A Sinn Fein poster proposing Irish unity as a solution to Brexit (Brian Lawless/PA)

Sinn Fein's big win has put a border poll centre-stage in political debate. That's not surprising. When the IRA called its ceasefire on August 31, 1994, the republican base believed that Irish unity was around the corner.

Women banging bin lids on the metal fencing outside Andersonstown barracks yelled: "Brits out! Brits out!"

Many grassroots republicans believed that the IRA had negotiated a secret deal with the British Government to sweep away the border.

While soldiers are no longer on the streets, partition remains and Sinn Fein has been unsuccessful in securing any movement towards Irish unity. In the immediate years after the ceasefire, Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness both attempted to lower expectations while still keeping the dream alive.

A "united Ireland by 2016" became the new pledge. But the Easter Rising's centenary has come and gone. Four years later, a border poll by 2025 is Sinn Fein's latest catchcry.

If the party enters a coalition government with Fianna Fail, its base will expect it to make a strong push on Irish unity.

Sinn Fein's electoral success may be on the back of its housing, health and pensions' policies, but the party's central objective is Irish unity.

Writing in the Belfast Telegraph, its vice-president Michelle O'Neill says that the next Dublin Government must begin actively planning for Irish unity.

"That could involve a citizens' forum on constitutional change, a green paper on Irish unity, and the appointment of a minister with responsibility to prepare for reunification," she says.

Irish unity is much more popular in the Republic than many in the media would have you believe.

It may not have been foremost on the minds of those one in four voters who backed Sinn Fein in last Saturday's election.

But the Ipsos/MRBI exit poll showed 57% support for a border poll rising to 75% among 18-24s.

A Sinn Fein government is unlikely to secure a border poll with Boris Johnson in Downing Street.

And despite a declining unionist vote, it's very doubtful the numbers are currently there for nationalists to win a poll in Northern Ireland anyway.

Victory would depend on convincing a majority of the growing 'Other' section of the electorate of the benefits of unity. Only a disastrous Brexit is likely to do that in the foreseeable future.

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