And yet it remains that a wide-ranging discussion on Irish Unity was front and centre on prime time television, which arguably should be seen in the first light as a positive.
The trajectory of demographics in the North would always, of themselves, have eventuated in an increased momentum towards Irish Unity. But the additional context that is Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union, and the impact of same on efforts to ‘normalise’ the Six Counties, has only added grist to the mill.
The combined weight of both is speeding a momentum towards Irish Unity that the political establishment recognises and hopes to control. Through the artificial political constituency that is ‘civic society’, so-called, it is engaged in a lowering of expectations as to what a United Ireland should comprise.
It cannot, though, be afforded ability to do so, or at least not without challenge. While there is an obvious issue here to be countenanced, in that caution as to the agenda of others is needed, we must ensure that we don’t, in our caution, remove ourselves from the wider equation.
The tendency in Republicanism to reject all and everything, without putting forward a progressive alternative, is not going to cut the mustard. Republicans, then, need to engage the discussion with something other than the politics of rejection. The revisionist wing in the nationalist tradition will otherwise have a field day, uncontested.
The function of Republican struggle, in this context, is to build and assert pressure from below. This demands more than rejecting what we don’t like or agree with and a building of support for that we are set on: the Republic. We must win the idea that any future United Ireland must comprise the sovereignty of the Irish Republic.
As Irish Republicans, we need to embrace and engage the developing space and fill it to the best of our abilities, with Republican notions, solutions and politics and a confident assertion of same. We need to be better at promoting OUR prescription for a United Ireland: a republic based on the Proclamation. As Connolly rightly encouraged, the Irish Republic must be made a word to conjure with.
Rather than ‘rejectionism’, despite its comforts, this must be the mainstay of our forward approach. Do this and then discussions on Irish Unity, rather than a foil for revisionist Ireland, can be held for the positive that they are — as a staging point on the road to our long-cherished object. This is where things are now at.