Ruth Dudley Edwards: The nationalist vote is nowhere near enough for a border poll

I couldn’t stand Piers Morgan until he lost his job on Good Morning Britain for telling the truth about Meghan Markle

By Ruth Dudley Edwards
Tuesday, 10th May 2022, 12:08 am
Updated Wednesday, 11th May 2022, 3:08 am
(left to right) John Finucane, Michelle O'Neill, Mary Lou McDonald and Conor Murphy at a Sinn Fein press conference at Stormont on Monday. Michelle O’Neill will have no more power than they had when Paul Givan was in the job, writes Ruth Dudley Edwards. And their vote went up only 1%. Photo: Liam McBurney/PA Wire
(left to right) John Finucane, Michelle O'Neill, Mary Lou McDonald and Conor Murphy at a Sinn Fein press conference at Stormont on Monday. Michelle O’Neill will have no more power than they had when Paul Givan was in the job, writes Ruth Dudley Edwards. And their vote went up only 1%. Photo: Liam McBurney/PA Wire

Then I overlooked his crassness, praised his moral courage and wished him well in his new job with Talk TV.

But the honeymoon is now well and truly over since his staggering display of ignorance and indeed stupidity on Sunday morning.

He tweeted: “I don’t think people fully understand the consequences of Sinn Fein’s success. We are witnessing the impending and I think now inevitable collapse of the United Kingdom.”

Sign up to our daily newsletter

Arlene Foster, now a broadcaster herself, socked it to him.

“I have to say if people are going to comment on NI they should at least have the basics, @piersmorgan. Unionism is still the largest designation and nationalism lost more seats.”

In fairness to Morgan, most of the British media were equally ill-informed.

As we know, yes, Michelle O’Neill should become first minister if the DUP doesn’t convince a few other unionist MLAs to join his party, but that would be shady behaviour which I wouldn’t expect of them.

Spin it though they will, Sinn Fein will have no more power than they had when Paul Givan was in the job. And their vote went up only 1%.

The TUV more than trebled their votes and Alliance nearly doubled theirs.

True, TUV still have just one MLA, but the strength of their vote will be frightening the Downing Street horses.

As was shown over the Drumcree disaster period in the 1990s, Ulster Protestants are law-abiding only if they respect the law.

Sinn Fein did not take a single extra seat and nationalism received no more votes than it did in 1998 when the SDLP came out as the biggest party.

It is nationalism of the traditionally constitutional variety that they take votes from, not unionism.

And quite a lot of those votes came from the SDLP to Sinn Fein just to spite the DUP for not committing to take the post of deputy first minister.

As a wise friend said to me, when she heard that, it stirred tribal memories and nationalists heard a voice in their head saying: “They don’t want a Catholic around the place.”

It had the same effect as Arlene Foster’s “Don’t feed the crocodile”, which, of course, she was applying to Sinn Fein — who spun it as a comment on all nationalists.

The facts remain the same.

Nationalism is nowhere near the majority that would require the secretary of state to call a border poll and every respectable pollster reports that only around one third of Northern Ireland voters want Irish unity.

Fianna Fail Taoiseach Micheal Martin is an historian who understands republicanism and loathes Sinn Fein so much he went into coalition with his party’s traditional Fine Gael enemies in order to keep them out of government.

He had been amused, he said, by all the speculation about this election leading to a referendum, since it was “nearly buried from its documentation and its manifesto” but came back to centre stage as soon as the votes were counted.

Martin knows Sinn Fein tactics, so it’s no surprise that in this interview he rejected the idea of a citizens’ assembly on Irish unity.

Those of us with long memories will remember with bitterness how the party twisted the consultation process over police reform through intimidation and lies.

“I don’t favour that approach,” he said, “Because I think the way you build bridges between North and South is by first of all the political parties and members of parties, members of society more generally, engaging more and more.”

In other words, by being good neighbours, which is impossible where Sinn Fein is involved while they continue to laud murderers of unionists.

He will also be well aware that in the Republic there is no genuine appetite for unity.

The recent poll on electoral priorities showed Northern Ireland at Number 16. And substantial number of Sinn Fein voters seemed not to care about it either.

They’re hoping for a dynamic government that will sort out the cost of living and housing and the young in particular think Mary Lou McDonald could be the answer.

The likes of Piers Morgan seem to think that Sinn Fein being in government North and South will be able to bring about a united Ireland, which shows they don’t understand the Republic anymore than they do Northern Ireland.

Opinion polls have shown that although a majority would in principle favour, they don’t want it now and they are not prepared to contemplate changing their anthem, changing their flag, or protecting unionists as nationalists have been protected in Northern Ireland.

These days they seem to be quite happy with immigration, but that would not include almost a million angry unionists and a potential civil war.

It is an irony that Morgan would not understand, that if Northern Ireland voted for unity, which it won’t, a terrified South would vote it down.

And that the Shinners get into government in the south their discovery that there is no magic money tree would deter even them from wanting to take an enormous extra burden.

Oh, and by the way, the same would apply to Scotland.

• Other commentary: