The Irish Times view on Sinn Féin’s unity predictions: unhelpful magical thinking

It would be preferable if the party’s legitimate policy goals were not used to put forward a misleading narrative about contemporary political realities

Media across the world paid attention on Saturday afternoon when Michelle O’Neill walked down the grand staircase in Stormont on her way to becoming First Minister of Northern Ireland. Reports for international audiences explained the historical significance of a nationalist taking the position for the first time. In her first speech, O’Neill made a point of reaching out to political opponents and promising to govern for all.

All of this is welcome, as is the return to something approaching political normality in the North. For Sinn Féin, as it plots a final push for electoral success south of the Border, balancing the politics of the two jurisdictions can sometimes require different messaging for different constituencies. One example was Mary Lou McDonald’s claim that the weekend’s events represent a step towards a united Ireland that is now within “touching distance”.

The reality is rather more nuanced. Over its 26-year history, the Assembly has seen shifts in party support and a decline in the unionist vote. But the percentage of voters supporting nationalist parties has remained stable, at around 40 per cent. And recent polling suggests an almost two-to-one majority against unification.

None of this detracts from what happened on Saturday, or indeed from Sinn Féin’s perfectly legitimate policy goals. But it would be preferable if these were not used to put forward a misleading narrative about contemporary political realities. Bluntly, there is no evidence of anything approaching sufficient conditions for Irish unity among the North’s voters the near future.


Common Ground, the new project from The Irish Times, aims to bring together the many domestic and international strands that must form part of any meaningful discussion about identity and sovereignty. These complex questions require careful consideration, long-term dialogue and an openness to opposing views. Glib predictions of imminent constitutional change, by contrast, are a particularly unhelpful form of magical thinking.