Is Andrew Lynch right? In a review for The Sunday Business Post eighteen months ago, Lynch described Eoin O Broin as “the closest thing Sinn Fein has to a full-blown intellectual”. Two days ago I interviewed O Broin as part of Feile An Phobail, and while I can’t testify to the full-blown bit because I’m not sure what it means (and neither does Lynch, in all probability), if being an intellectual means you’ve got lots of ideas, O Broin is indeed an intellectual.
In the course of his talk the former Belfast city councillor made a number of interesting points, notably that the DUP are not the central obstacle to a reunited Ireland and a new republic. O Broin insists that the role of road-block is taken by Fianna Gael and Fianna Fail. The two southern parties would of course deny this, insisting that they are republican, but then the SDLP do the same thing so clearly that can’t be treated seriously. In fact, O Broin argues, FF and FG are passionately committed to maintaining the status quo – that is, partition.
It’s a persuasive argument, and the FF and FG position is understandable if not forgiveable. After all, the two parties have been in existence for close to a century now. If you and the people before you had laboured long and hard to built up a fighting electoral machine, with all the attendant memories and companionship and privileges, do you think you’d want to see all that dissolved with the arrival of a new, all-Ireland republic? The other side of that is, if Fianna Fail and Fine Gael were serious about their desire to end partition, there’d be a pan-nationalist front in Ireland that would expose the DUP as the nay-sayers that they are. The drive towards powerful cross-border bodies would become turbo-charged and, especially with the heightened consciousness of 2016 as the 100th anniversary of the Easter Rising, there’d be a new attitude to what is possible throughout Ireland.
O Broin made one other point that particularly caught my attention. He said that securing a majority in the north for constitutional change was possible, but only if those seeking change stop thinking in terms of converting, say, 10% of the DUP. Think instead, he argued, of the 50% of Protestants who don’t vote. They’re clearly open to something better than what currently is on offer. It’s up to those believing in a new republic to present a vision that will win their attention and ultimately support.
Not bad for someone condescended to by a Sunday Business Post reviewer. But then as O Broin himself might say, he’s been patronised in his time by people of better judgement and higher standing than Andrew Lynch.