Has partition worked? It all depends on what you mean by‘worked’. Judging by the responses in some quarters to Gerry Adams’s speech at the Sinn Fein Ard Fheis on Saturday night, partition has been spectacularly successful. ‘He kept talking about the north’; ‘He has such a northern accent’; ‘I hate when he speaks in Irish’: that kind of response could be heard among southerners who, if you asked them, would still classify themselves as ‘nationalist’. On the northern side, some ‘nationalists’ talk and think in stereotypes about southerners, believe Dublin is all right for a weekend but the people there talk in a ridiculous brogue, and don’t feel at home until they get north of Newry.
So while Sinn Fein have a job on their hands to convert at least ten per cent of unionists to their way of thinking, they also face a mammoth task with many ‘nationalists’ on either side of the border. The difficulties with southern ‘nationalists’ was encapsulated in their belief that Sinn Fein shouldn’t waste time talking about political events in the north. The difficulties with northern ‘‘nationalists’ was caught last week in the reaction to Derry’s short-listing as a UK City of Culture. Republicans stressed the need for the city to go forward under the name favoured by the majority of its citizens and to do so with a full inclusion of Irish culture. ‘Nationalists’ in Derry said in so many words ‘Shut up about calling it Derry – Londonderry is grand if that’s what it takes, and who cares what culture is included as long as we get the nomination?’
The hard truth is that while few ‘‘nationalists’ would vote for a unionist candidate in an election, many are content to accept and even support partition if it fits in with their self-interest. In the years leading up to 1916, the Irish people needed a profound political shock to wake them to their true identity. As we approach 2016, the same holds true.