I attended one of Sinn Fein’s public meetings on its Ard Fheis decision to support the PSNI up North.
After a few minutes of questions it became apparent that the whole thing was a gimme, in golf parlance, and that the leadership would have no problems at the Ard Fheis.
In the question session I asked how acceptance of the PSNI would be a stepping stone to a United Ireland as had been posited by Gerry Kelly and Gerry Adams in their opening remarks. I got a fairly cool response from Gerry Kelly to the effect that I was saying the Sinn Fein were ineffective in the institutions that they took part in, the implication being that once they got on to the various Northern authorities that a United Ireland would follow.
My question was fairly innocuous, and I only really asked it because it appeared that no-body else had any more questions (and this was after just three questions). But on the night it was the most hostile question put to the top table.
It really is a turnaround of epic proportions when the Republican Movement can embrace what is, after all, a British police force.
And yet, as I said in this column a couple of weeks ago, the move is a step toward a united Ireland of some sort and certainly the agreed Ireland that John Hume used to talk about.
So now that the guns are silent and gone, is it not time that the broad nationalist/republican community on this island sat down and actually decided what we want? People talk about a United Ireland but what does that mean? Is it a unitary state, a federation, a confederation, an association, joint authority, or none of the above?
Because there’s no point annoying the unionists with thoughts of a takeover the moment the taigs outbreed the prods. We have never included the unionist people in republican ideology except to put them on the flag without their say so.
The thing to do is to promise that a functioning Northern Ireland would never be dismantled in the event of some form of Irish unity so that unionists would always retain the same control and influence in their local affairs that they have now. Such a guarantee would remove from unionists any threat of an apocalyptic turnaround in their fortunes.
An intact Northern Ireland could determine its own relationship to the British Crown, for one example and wouldn’t have to have the same language policies as the rest of the island, for another.
Northern Ireland could be a single transferable state that could be passed from the UK to Ireland with the minimum of fuss. The most important thing is that the people living there learn to live with one another.
So we need to say what we want. As soon as the elections are over, north and south, we should recall the New Ireland Forum and agree on what we mean by a United Ireland.