Israel/Palestine: The Politics of a Two-State Solution

  • Israel/Palestine and the Politics of a Two-State Solution
  • When Peace Fails: Lessons from Belfast for the Middle East

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Sinn Fein and the Border Poll

Under the Good Friday Agreement Northern Ireland must conduct a border poll of the population about entering a united Ireland whenever there is sufficient demand for one, but with a maximum of one every seven years. Sinn Fein is now agitating for a border poll. This would, on the face of it, seem a rather strange time to do so as the economy in the Republic is still reeling from the 2010 collapse (caused by a property bubble similar to the one that caused the 2008 recession in the U.S.) and few Catholics in the North are interested in joining a failed economic system at the moment. Indications are that only about half of nationalists, or about a quarter of the population over all would vote for unification. But as Basil McCrea lets on here in a speech to the SF Summer School in Belfast, this might be smart politics for the party. By setting the bar low, any future gains can be looked upon and sold as major achievements and hopefully have a snowball effect.

McCrea goes on to explain that this would be an instance of putting party above country--and he explains by this that he means Ireland and not just Northern Ireland. It would deter foreign investment and increase division within the North. It would also possibly focus attention on the problems of the South as these would be raised by the unionists in an anti-unity campaign. This could hurt the South's economy. But McCrea then goes on and raises the central dilemma of Sinn Fein's strategy. Sinn Fein appeals to the alienated in both parts of the island--alienated nationalists in the North for ethnic reasons and alienated poor in the South for economic reasons. But to appeal to the latter they have to criticize the government's handling of the economy and other problems and this does not increase desire for unity among unionists (which is usually rock bottom to start) or among middle-class Catholics. In both areas the natural response of Sinn Fein's opponents is "sort out your problems in your own area first." This is more stinging in the South, because there SF cannot count on voters voting for it for purely ethnic reasons and yet knowing that it is in charge in the North along with the DUP. 

This speech was a very good advertisement for Basil McCrea and his new NI21 party. It shows him scoring political points in a good-natured fashion in "enemy" territory and making a well-thought-out argument. A big improvement over the remarks of his party organizer, Tina McKenzie at the party's launch.

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