A new Ireland is still far down the political campaigning agenda despite Brexit

Last night Slugger O’Toole enjoyed an evening in Maginns Bar in Castlewellan as part of the Soma Festival. The topic was Is a New Ireland is Achievable or Even Desirable? and the conversation between Alex Kane and Allison Morris was wide-ranging and at times quite entertaining.

Two years ago I couldn’t have imagined Slugger running a session on the topic. While many people still hold a legitimate political aspiration for unification, the only discussion seemed to be about talking down the level of support based on surveys and research. Very little that was new seemed to be said about the topic.

Read – Ignoring the small issue of a border poll, what might a new united Ireland be like? Interview with Conall McDevitt in February 2013

The panel agreed that Brexit has changed that. Moderates are more open to the possibility and given the demographic changes in Northern Ireland, it’s only a matter of time – perhaps 10 or 20 years – before a Secretary of State agrees that a border poll should be called to test the mood.

Much of last night’s discussion centred around identity, including whether some unionists’ sense of Britishness would be instantly and permanently snuffed out if more than half of the electorate voted to leave the UK. There was a strong sense that now that unionists are no longer just ducking the question with ‘it’s not going to happen so I’m not going to discuss it’, there was a need to begin a civic conversation around the mechanics of a possible process, and start to articulate the reassurances and detail that many different communities – on both sides of the border – might require. There was a definite role for the British and Irish governments to lead.

While promises and messaging about a new Ireland still appear in nationalist party manifestos, it’s not much of a campaigning issue. It’s certainly not the message that is used to drive voters out to the polling stations.

So while preparing to chair last night’s event, I searched through the press releases sent out by the local parties to see how often they have mentioned ‘new Ireland’ or ‘united Ireland’ in their communications.

It’s no big surprise that Sinn Féin were out in front with 4.7% of press releases (that’s 37 out of 794) sent out to their press contacts in the north mentioning those phrases.

  • 2.9% of UUP press releases (8 out of 280) mentioned it, while the figure for the DUP was 1.9% (5 out of 257).
  • Just 1.1% of SDLP press statements (5 out of 468) used the phrases.
  • I could find no mention of the phrases in press statements received from the Alliance Party of the Green Party.
  • The TUV still haven’t included me on their press distribution list, so I can’t include them in the analysis.

I’ll be the first to admit that it’s not a terribly scientific piece of analysis – it was intended as a bit of fun for the audience to guess the order of the parties – but the results offer some food for thought.

Despite the change of public mood towards the possibility of a united Ireland, and the need avoid a Brexit-like campaign of misinformation, the concepts and possibilities of a new Ireland are far down the day-to-day campaigning agenda for nationalist parties.

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