So Enda Kenny is going to visit the north. To what purpose? Well, a clue lies in the people who’ll be travelling with him. Fergus O’Dowd and Brian Hayes both voted against Kenny in this week’s leadership contest. So while you might be tempted to think that his meetings with Peter Robinson, Gerry Adams, Martin McGuinness, Maggie Ritchie, Reg Empey, Danny Kennedy and David Ford were to do with forging closer relations with the north, a desire to put some flesh on the bones of Fine Gael’s all-Ireland policy, you’d be soft-brained to yield to such a temptation. Kenny is using the visit to show the southern electorate that he’s got a unified Fine Gael party behind him (and if they believe that, they deserve him as Taoiseach).
Fine Gael, like Fianna Fail and Labour,, don’t give a damn about the north. Or more accurately, they care that it may interfere with their internal twenty-six counties politics. In the Irish Times today, Garret Fitzgerald has a piece recalling his visit north shortly after Bloody Sunday. Like the present Fine Gael leader, Fitzgerald acknowledged the existence of the north only when some crisis popped up which looked as if it might have repercussions for southern politics. In recent years, when southern politicians do address the north, it’s invariably to stress their concern for the plight of unionists, not nationalists. Mary Robinson, you’ll recall, resigned from the Irish Labour Party back in the 1980s because she felt the Anglo-Irish Agreement was unfair to unionists.
If you’re a northern nationalist or a nationalist anywhere in Ireland, you’d do well to remember that southern politicians, other than Sinn Féin, have been taught to dislike the north, to see it as ‘that place up there’, and they have learnt the lesson well.