In March this year at a St Patrick’s Day parade, Mary Lou McDonald, leader of Sinn Féin in the Republic of Ireland, marched behind a banner that read “England get out of Ireland”. The stunt garnered widespread criticism. Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s deputy, Simon Coveney, didn’t mince his words when he called it “offensive, divisive and an embarrassment”.
This incident was symptomatic of a party that has misread the room. Growing support for a united Ireland is clear: in late May, a poll conducted by RTÉ found that two-thirds of voters in the Republic supported a united Ireland, a marked contrast to a similar poll in 2015 that put the figure at just over one third.
But that support has departed from the type of nationalism Sinn Féin invokes. Boris Johnson’s current approach to Brexit – no backstop, or no deal – is obviously concerning for Northern Ireland’s economic health. Sinn Féin should be able to capitalise on this. And yet, the party is tanking in the Irish polls: the party suffered huge defeat in local elections across the Republic in May.
A new case for Irish unity has been ignited by Brexit, one grounded in economic logic, shorn of unpalatable historic reference, and championed by moderate Irish politicians. [Continue reading…]