Sinn Féin’s recent “Border Poll” appears to be a ludicrous exercise in not only shooting yourself in the foot, but giving yourself a solid kneecapping in the hospital car park while you’re at it. The “People’s Referendum” hilariously asked voters in Louth and South Armagh whether they would like a united Ireland or not and unsurprisingly got 92% agreement levels. Even the boldest of fenian men would have to concede that two miniscule self-selecting samples in republican heartlands north and south of the border hardly make the case for a united Ireland.
It seems like a bizarre reversion to the mean for Sinn Féin – after a number of years of relative success in the Republic campaigning on an anti-austerity platform and coming across as a modern radical leftist party, it seems as though someone panicked and felt the need to remind the electorate that they haven’t forgotten about the border. In this writer’s point of view it was a tone deaf stunt and needless waste of money and effort for a party that has done well in repositioning itself in recent years to appeal to urban voters outside the traditional barstool republican demographic (as an aside, someone in Sinn Féin’s central office needs to ban the sale of “Sniper at Work” paraphernalia of all sorts from shops and Ardfheiseanna right now – how much branding and positioning work is undone in seconds when anyone with a brain sees these?).
But much as this was surely a dead loss for SF (and opinion polls seem to suggest there was not even a temporary boost), it got me thinking about one or two issues around a United Ireland. It probably doesn’t come as a surprise to many that opinion polls in Northern Ireland suggest the union is safe for the moment. The most recent poll by BBC Spotlight suggests that 65% in the North would rather stay in the UK, compared to just 17% who’d prefer to be in a united Ireland. The ongoing crisis down south doesn’t seem to have helped much, as the graph below shows, but neither has a united Ireland ever looked like a realistic possibility. And while another poll suggesting that a majority of Catholics are actually unionists has been questioned for under-representing Sinn Féin supporters (and seems highly dubious given the historical trend), there is still little doubt that voters in the North would rather stay where they are, constitutionally speaking, for the moment.
A more interesting question came up on twitter recently, when one commenter wondered whether voters in the Republic would vote in favour of a united Ireland. It’s a question I’ve heard more than once, with some people (generally from urban, middle class backgrounds!) expressing a kind of disbelief that voters down south would want their unintelligible, prickly, line dance and political violence loving, cousins from the North to be part of their country.
In reality though, the outcome of a poll on a united Ireland in the Republic has never been in doubt – its acceptance in a referendum in the 26 counties would be even more assured than its rejection in the 6. I don’t know of any long term trend data from a single source like there is for the North, but all recent polls I could find have been overwhelmingly in favour of a united Ireland in one form or another. As an example, last November an Irish Times survey had 64% saying that they favoured a United Ireland, compared to just 8% opposed to the idea. The article reports that this figure is slightly down from the 1980s, but that strong support seems to have shifted into the “no opinion” camp rather than outright rejection, where figures have also declined. In any case, there seems to be little enough to worry about for proponents of a united Ireland in the Republic.
But ignoring all this and thinking in the realms of fancy, what would a united Ireland look like? Remembering for a minute that this blog laughs in the face of academic rigour and ignoring deeper questions of politics, symbolism, social attitudes, devolution, ties with Britain and all that might actually be entailed in a united Ireland (and what fertile ground for another post!), I had a look at what would happen if an election to a united Ireland Dáil/Parliament happened tomorrow. Or more accurately, if it had happened in 2011 – I’ve taken figures for the 2011 Dáíl and Stormont elections and assumed they were for one united body.
For the sake of simplicity, I’ve assumed that there would be the same level of representation as there currently is in the Republic and that each party would win seats in direct proportion to how many they won in the most recent election (meaning that parties currently operating in the Republic have the same number of seats as they won in the 2011 campaign). Obviously this is a gross simplification and ignores the potential for more all-Ireland parties and campaigns (or of course a unionist boycott), as well as assigning seats based on two slightly different electoral systems. However, as we remain strongly in the world of fantasy, I’d ask you to bear with me for a little longer!
The results, as shown here are, interesting. As the North currently has a slightly higher level of representation than the Republic, there are only 66 Northern representatives in this Dáil compared to 108 currently in Stormont. This means there are a total of 232 members of this new body, so 117 is the magic number for a coalition. Maybe the most interesting thing, and indicative of how decisive a majority the current coalition have, is that FG and Labour would still very nearly have a majority despite adding in another 66 opposition members!
A John Bruton true blue special of FG/DUP/UUP doesn’t quite cut it with 109, but add in a few right-leaning independents, the Alliance party or even FF (who might object politically, but surely would have little to disagree with in economic policy) and you could get there, making it the most likely option. True 32-county socialist republicans will of course be hoping that a red-green coalition to rival the Connolly-Pearse pairing could work out. Sadly even the Italianesque Labour / SF / FF / SDLP / ULA / Green Party coalition would struggle, hitting just 103 seats – 14 shy of a majority.
Of course, trying to picture any of these coalitions actually working is massively entertaining. Eamon Gilmore as Taoiseach, Gerry Adams as Tánaiste, the ever thrilling Alasdair McDonnell as Minister for Justice? Or how about Enda as Taoiseach, but instead of Big Phil and Fr. Fintan Stack as his lieutenants he has Peter Robinson and former Sunday Morning host Mike Nesbitt glaring across the cabinet table?
Let me know your favourite/most unlikely combination in the comments.