Working towards Irish Unity




Is a Fine Gael clear-out really on the cards?

There was a fascinating piece from Miriam Lord in last Saturday’s Irish Times.

She suggests, with the casual authority of the informed commentator, that Leo Varadkar, Simon Coveney and Pascal Donohue will all quit frontline politics at the next Irish general election.

Big news if so, representing a clear-out of Fine Gael’s top table.

They would join a clutch of other FG TDs that have already announced they are going.

‘Nobody in Leinster House believes that will be the final tally,’ predicts Lord.

A combination of boundary changes and the party’s current polling – with Fine Gael a long way south of Sinn Fein on the latest Sunday Independent poll – 32/20%.

As Lord sagaciously noted, ‘Nothing concentrates the political mind like the desire to dodge an electoral hanging.’

So, what does all this mean for Irish unity, then?

Well, it’s certainly a major break point. Varadkar and Micheál Martin, the two biggest blockers on progress, will have been removed from Irish politics.

Although not mentioned in the Irish Times piece, it seems inconceivable that Martin – whose once-mighty Fianna Fail now languishes in third place in nearly every poll – will be permitted to keep his clammy hands on the wheel of his party on the other side of an election.

So, if – if – Sinn Fein heads the next government following the general election which is expected next year, they will find themselves dealing with an entirely new cast of characters leading the two old parties.

They may also, of course, find themselves governing with one of them.

I’m minded to say that anyone would be better than ‘Maradkar.’ There are clearly people in both parties that are more thoughtful when it comes to envisioning the opportunity this decade offers to finally reunite the island of Ireland.

Figures like Jim O’Callaghan in Fianna Fail and Neale Richmond in Fine Gael have made useful contributions to the debate in recent years.

It opens-up the possibility of positive new future where Dublin can agree about the broad shape of the process that gets us to that border poll in the next few years.

Just as a postscript, I have to say, the inclusion of Coveney in those potentially walking the plank, is fascinating. Still only 50, I was amazed to read that he’s been a TD for 28 years. A classic case of too much too soon.

Bumped from the foreign ministry to the enterprise and trade brief, following the rotation from Micheál Martin back to Leo Varadkar, Lord’s source concludes, ‘I don’t think his heart is in it.’

Incidentally, I predicted at the start of the year that Fine Gael types might rue the day that Coveney, the more talented of the two, was not backed for leader over Varadkar. It seems he’s not hanging around to remedy the oversight!

Kevin Meagher is author of A United Ireland: Why Unification is Inevitable and How it Will Come About and What A Bloody Awful Country: Northern Ireland’s Century of Division.