Alliance has recently declined an invitation to participate in the hotly anticipated Ireland’s Future, ‘Together We Can’ event. They have described the event as a “rally to endorse a united Ireland”. For a party that is ostensibly constitutionally agnostic, perhaps this is an understandable position.
When events such as church services marked the centenary of this gerrymandered statelet, Alliance should have also declined invitations in the name of consistency. Yet not only did they attend these services, but they also criticised others such as Michael D. Higgins for refusing to do the same.
Alliance is also more than happy to engage in the institutions of partition e.g., Stormont but they cannot even engage in this discussion around what a future Ireland may look like. For a political entity that has an image of being progressive, liberal, and open-minded this is a fairly stubborn Unionist-esque approach.
Sinn Féin are seemingly less likely to be portrayed in the mainstream media with such a positive image. However, if we look at how their movement has progressed, would it not be a more accurate characterisation?
When the GFA said the constitutional status cannot change without majority support in both the North and the South (effectively conceding ‘NI’ must agree to it), most Republicans still supported it. When the English Queen visited, Sinn Féin extended the hand of friendship in the spirit of reconciliation even though monarchy is antithetical to Republicanism.
Despite being opposed to this statelet, Sinn Féin try to work in the devolved Government that they do not believe should really exist. Ironically, the party currently preventing Stormont from functioning are those with the mindset that created it in the first place.
Sinn Féin has adapted. It is willing to respect the monarchy and engage with the institutions born out of partition. That is being open-minded and progressive. Opposing the continuance of this sectarian statelet is sometimes implied as being a sectarian position (which goes against the spirit of the GFA), yet it is a truly non-sectarian position.
Alliance could learn from Republicans generosity of spirit next time they receive an invitation to one of these events. When Stephen Farry previously participated, he was a welcome addition. Which makes this Alliance decision all the more disheartening.
However, the problem with these perennial fence-sitters is that they support partition without explicitly saying so. That is fine, the GFA respects this, but instead of using tiresome mental gymnastics to explain their constitutional position, eventually they will need to set out their stall. The border poll will not provide 3 options for: yes, no, or indifferent. It will be a binary choice.
Alliance participation in these events will enrich the discussion. They can even make a case for the benefits of ‘NI’ which we want to hear as it might include parts we would like (free healthcare at point of entry) in an Ireland that merges the best parts of each jurisdiction. To do so they need to engage.
If we are to trust that they are genuinely indifferent, then we must believe they can be swayed towards supporting a United Ireland (for EU membership or other reasons). However, when they actively engage in partitionist institutions and commemorations yet cannot even countenance the alternative then it is difficult to have much faith in them. Maybe they’re useful idiots for the Unionist cause. By supporting Alliance, you can support the status-quo of partition whilst avoiding the ugly image associated with Unionism. When the next election comes it will be interesting to see if as many Nationalists and Republicans still view them as transfer friendly.