Writing for TPQ on yesterday's election in the Six Counties, Sean Bresnahan, Chair of the Thomas Ashe Society Omagh, equates the rising nationalist vote in the north with increased desires for Irish Unity in that constituency. He writes here in a personal capacity.
Post the Westminster election and following on from the Stormont vote in March, while many lament the rise in Sinn Fein's vote as a 'slippage to orange and green politics', realpolitik and how Britain has set the rules for her leaving Ireland dictate that if there is to be a United Ireland that this, a reversion to the politics of orange and green, unfortunately must come to be. This is due to the contrived gerrymander that upholds the Union, not any failing or flaw in the character of Irish nationalism.
The sectarian headcount that clearly now is northern politics, while never what republicans would wish to see, is the outworking of British policy in Ireland and the British government's refusal to leave. Perversely, given that 'normalisation' is the only direction aside from this in which politics can travel, it is also, sadly, necessary if there is to be constitutional change.
The responsibility for the current state of politics here, then, lies with the British government and none other. With Britain having dictated, through the Framework Document and subsequent agreements imposed therefrom, that she will not relinquish her sovereign claim absent a confirming majority towards that end, it is inevitable that we will get this kind of election and election result. Expect nothing but the same going forward for as long as partition endures.
While Irish republicanism is about the unity of our respective traditions within an Irish Republic, conversely, given that Britain refuses our right to live under such a republic – preserving and encouraging for its own selfish interests the sectarian dynamic required to sustain her 'right to rule' – if there is to be a United Ireland, given that republicanism lacks the strategic capacity to impose its terms on the British state, it requires that this gerrymander be eclipsed.
Given that republicanism, in its traditional sense, has been effectively contained and given also that unionism remains, effectively, a monolith towards sustaining the Union, this necessitates the outnumbering of the unionist cohort internal to the contrived gerrymander if there is to be a United Ireland any time soon. We might not like that it is so and argue against this in principle but the fact remains that this is where things are at.
To that extent, the so-called slippage towards 'orange and green' should present issue only to those who seek that the normalisation / 'Project Northern Ireland' agenda become further embedded. While far from progressive, this is the course reality of a sectarian gerrymander – a lá the northern statelet – when it faces off against an internal minority on the rise within its boundary, a minority for whom the gerrymander exists to deny their rightful place within a United Ireland in the first instance.
To this extent the sectarianism bemoaned of today, which straddles northern politics in a more obvious, indeed overt, fashion than seen in decades, can only be accounted for once the gerrymander sustaining it is no more – and with it the Union which gives rise to the same. It is only when that Union has been ended that the divisions between the Irish people can begin to heal.
That further polarisation along the orange and green axis is the likely direction of travel in the interim is the unavoidable consequence of British policy – not the doing of Irish nationalism. It is not, then, related to nationalist voting behaviour and changes to nationalist voting behaviour reflect that reality, rather than any slippage towards sectarian considerations. When an occupying force insists that a contrived majority be surmounted in a sectarian numbers game before entertaining our national rights, it can be no other way.
While recent election results reflect a growing nationalist demography in the Six Counties and have brought into focus the prospect of a United Ireland, we should not get carried away. We must, as republicans, ensure to the best of our combined abilities that a United Ireland – should one come to pass – is a sovereign Ireland and not a halfway house arrangement, as is now being advanced by some in the constitutional fold.
While awaiting a nationalist majority is in no way a revolutionary strategy it does not, though, necessitate that should one be realised that a revolutionary outcome should not proceed. For ourselves as Irish republicans that outcome must be a democratic all-Ireland republic – a 'New Republic' for all. The rising nationalist vote in the north suggests this could be closer to hand than until now has been estimated. Republicans must respond accordingly. It's either that or we wither and die.