Sir, – As somebody who always voted SDLP when living in the North, it is depressing to see the party's young leader, Colum Eastwood, announce that it is now following Sinn Féin in demanding a Border poll on Irish unity. As Alex Kane points out ("Irish unity is the central issue as North goes to the polls", June 7th), both parties now occupy the same political ground, believing that after Brexit such unity is closer now than it has ever been.
What happened to some significant element of unionist consent, a pre-requisite laid down in the 1998 Belfast Agreement? I worked in the North for 14 years up to 2013 and am still a frequent visitor, and I have seen no evidence of any major change of heart among unionists in recent years. Those former great SDLP leaders, John Hume and Seamus Mallon, used to emphasise that unity of people rather than territory was what would bring peace and reconciliation in Ireland.
As Mr Eastwood himself said last year: “For Ireland to be reunited, Northern Ireland has to work. This is the essence of our progressive nationalism.”
It may be a far longer and harder task to strive for reconciliation in the North and eventual unity by consent, but wasn’t that step-by-step, progressive, reconciling nationalism what the SDLP and the government signed up to in 1998? We seem to be back to the old, ugly nationalism by numbers – outbreeding and undermining the unionists until a Border poll vote creeps over the fateful 50 per cent mark, thus triggering the British government’s 1998 pledge to move towards unity. And damn the consequent unionist backlash.
And what of the Republic’s politicians? Enda Kenny, Leo Varadkar and Micheál Martin have all been talking recently about the prospect of unity coming closer because of Brexit with, I would suggest, only the most superficial consideration being given to the implications of this massive leap into the unknown. Do we all have to be dancing to Sinn Féin’s tune? – Yours, etc,