Maurice Hayes has been outlining his thoughts regarding Fianna Fail organising in Northern Ireland and the mooted deal between that party and the SDLP. The former Republic of Ireland senator adjudges any serious incursion into northern politics a possible destabilising influence which could undermine the underlying purpose of the Belfast Agreement, as accepted by a large majority in both Irish jurisdictions.
Hayes’ article raises a point which is worth picking up on from a unionist perspective. He interprets Southern Ireland’s overwhelming endorsement of the Agreement as “a polite way of saying so-long rather than a bid for further and closer engagement”. The motivation of this relative disengagement is inspired by a desire to give breathing space to northern politicians in order to let them establish their own institutions and order their own affairs.
He argues that Fianna Fail’s movement into Northern Ireland is contrary to this impulse and that it will have an unsettling influence on politics here, particularly for unionists. He is quite right to highlight this danger. Fianna Fail’s direct involvement in electoral politics here will reinforce unionist suspicions that nationalists have not wholeheartedly subscribed to the principle of consent and that an agenda of constitutional encroachment subsists alongside a rhetorical commitment to respect unionism’s democratic position.
Unionists expect and can deal with Sinn Féin’s attempts to subvert Northern Ireland’s constitutional position. Even the constitutional nationalist mindset is such that a narrow line lies between strengthening ties with the Republic and seeking to rebalance the state’s constitutional equilibrium toward Dublin. But in order to win space for agreement, it has been necessary for the Dublin government to persuade unionists that they can be something of an honest broker.
The most concrete manifestation of Dublin’s bona fides was of course dropping articles 2 & 3 of the Republic’s constitution but a sequence of more subtle diplomacy has built up a vital element of trust between unionists and the south’s political establishment. Hayes is an astute enough observer to realise that this fragile edifice could incur serious damage if Fianna Fail make serious inroads in Northern Ireland.