Working towards Irish Unity




Peadar Tóibín: ‘Irish unity is a great honour for this generation, because so many generations past never got the opportunity’

This edition of the podcast is a belter.

I’ve been fascinated by Peadar Tóibín for some time. He famously quit Sinn Fein back in 2018 after coming to a ‘strong difference of opinion’ with the party leadership over abortion before founding Aontú, with an offer focused on ‘life, unity and economic justice.’

The emergence of Aontú has many parallels elsewhere.

The influence of progressives on the traditional left – elevating social issues over concerns about economic redistribution – has caused problems for the British Labour party, French socialists and US Democrats.

Yet this is the space where Tóibín has pitched his tent. Can he now prosper?

With Aontú creeping up in the polls in recent weeks, it seems so. Could they now go further and benefit from voters’ frustrations over excessive immigration and inadequate housing supply?

Tóibín claimed the Dublin political class was struggling to cope with the result of last month’s referendum on altering the wording of the constitution around ‘a mother’s duties’ and the definition of families.

The government – and most of the opposition parties, to be fair – took a walloping, with two-thirds of the electorate rejecting the first proposition and three-quarters, the second.

It was a ‘watershed’ moment in Irish politics, Tóibín said.

We’ll have to wait and see on that point, but it was clearly a big surprise for the Dublin political class which has seen ‘a lot of U-turning happening, there’s a lot of recalibration of messages and there’s a lot of reorientation of policy.’

Although he did not rule out working with his former party in future, Tóibín was clear with us that he could not support either Fine Gael or the Greens who lacked ‘practical commonsense.’

‘We would talk to Sinn Fein, for sure…but it would be very important that our political objectives would be achieved,’ he said.

Referring to a recent radio debate he had participated in with Sinn Fein’s David Cullinane – where he ruled out the possibility of going into coalition with Aontú – Tóibín said:

‘I just thought it was interesting…that Aontú is probably the only other party with this explicit objective of a united Ireland, yet he would rule it out, but go into government with Fine Gael, who pretty much don’t want a united Ireland.’

Tóibín did, however, have a difference of opinion with Sinn Fein about preparations for an Irish unity referendum. Their proposed citizen’s assembly approach was ‘too shallow a system to grapple with all of these challenges,’ he said.

Instead, Tóibín preferred something modelled on the New Ireland Forum, ‘where you would invite the southern state, hopefully in partnership with the Northern assembly’ and other stakeholders to ‘discuss all the nuts and bolts of what’s involved.’

In terms of the next Irish general election, Tóibín said that if Aontú achieved 4-5% of the vote, he would be ‘deliriously happy.’

And if there was a governing coalition comprising Sinn Fein and Fianna Fail, Aontú would ‘keep them on their toes.’

I was struck by his closing remarks, which seemed especially poignant.

The idea of Irish unity being within touching distance is a great honour for this generation,’ he said, ‘because so many generations past never got the opportunity.

‘We should keep pushing together.’

Kevin Meagher is author of ‘A United Ireland: Why Unification is Inevitable and How it Will Come About’