Northern Ireland is a disputed territory in which a change of power from London to Dublin is always on the political agenda. Therefore, on the back of any census, opinion poll, survey or general election, the issue of preference for a united Ireland or a continued union with Great Britain is the first to be analysed. Sometimes this is unwarranted, but not this time. Not for this Assembly election.
There is a palpable buoyancy in nationalist communities in the north after Thursdays historic election. An effective campaign run by nationalist parties on issues such as equality, accountability in government, parity of esteem and to a large degree Brexit. This has resulted in its best ever result, and crucially ended the seemingly perpetual existence of a unionist majority in Stormont since the partition of Ireland.
A Victory for Unity
The significance of ending such a majority cannot be overstated. The fact that political parties (nationalist and moderate alike) with a preference for national reunification on this island now outnumber those opposed to it in the northern assembly, indicates the greatest evidence yet that the kind of change in constitutional status as envisaged by the Good Friday Agreement is afoot. Those enthusiastic about the prospect of a united Ireland now rightly feel energized by such a result.
For those that discourage enthusiasm for the prospect for fear it would cause “division”, appear to apply wholly different standards to northern nationalists than to our unionist neighbours, and this writer would urge re-examination of these standards. There should be no fear of treatment of unionists in a unified Ireland, whose interests would be far more appreciated in an island of 6 million, rather than in a wider union of 65 million, who at times prefer to forget the existence of this union at all.
Where the DUP Went Wrong
However, there had been ample evidence to fear for the continued disrespect and hostility for Irish nationalists in the northern state by the DUP. The removal of the unionist majority in the assembly represents a victory also for moderate parties, who also favour reunification, such as the Green Party. The mental gymnastics which many southern commentators attempt, in order to excuse unionist political leaders what has been pure sectarianism lately, is an untenable and counterproductive exercise. It normalises exclusionary behaviour. In a political climate in which populist right wing candidates are justifiably condemned by mainstream public opinion, we need not look far for an ultra-right wing party on this island, the DUP. Arlene Foster’s party are vehemently opposed to same sex marriage, deny climate-change and have exhibited an extreme prejudice against the minority nationalist community. The significant downsizing of DUP votes by the northern electorate signifies a move away from discrimination and sectarian politics. It is not opening the conversation on a united Ireland that would create division, it would rather be to allow the behaviour of the DUP in government to be normalised and tolerated.
A necessary part of fulfilling a reconciliation of historic proportions this island appears teetered on the edge of, is confronting unionism where necessary. The electorate have done so, it is time the Irish and British governments follow suit.
Historic times are upon us and anyone on this island that desires a radical or fundamental change as to how we conduct ourselves, in any manner, should view reunification and the project of forming a new Ireland as the necessary lubricant to achieve a society for which all the nation’s children, past, present and future may be proud of.