Editorial: 'Adams's failure to grasp SF decline'
The latest intervention by former Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams, in which he calls on the Government here to open consultations on the unification of Ireland, is an ill-judged attempt to deflect from the several causes behind the relative collapse in the Sinn Fein vote in recent elections, particularly south of the Border, which saw the party lose three members of the European Parliament and scores of councillors around the country.
In his intervention, Mr Adams also attempts to present a softer Sinn Fein position on the question of a Border poll - he calls for a "thoughtful inclusive process which sets out a programme of sustainable options, including phases of transition" - while at the same time beating a tribal drum in the aftermath of a poor electoral performance by Sinn Fein at a time when political focus is set to resume on Brexit in Ireland and the UK.
The causes for the Sinn Fein vote collapse, which are analysed extensively in this newspaper today, are multi-faceted and cannot be attributed to any one issue, although undoubtedly the party's insistence on taking advantage of the Brexit process to push for a Border poll or referendum on the question of Irish unity leaves anxious the many reasonable voters south of the Border who are in instinctive agreement with former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern when he described Sinn Fein's calls for a Border poll in the middle of the Brexit deadlock as "irresponsible".
The Good Friday Agreement states that the Northern Ireland Secretary must call a Border poll if at any time it appears "likely" that a majority of people in Northern Ireland would vote for a united Ireland. Mr Adams has claimed demographic and political changes in Northern society are playing an important role in encouraging this debate. However, that does not mean the case has been made for a Border poll now or in the immediate future. For such a referendum to be called in current circumstances would amount to an officially sanctioned sectarian head-count with a potentially disastrous outcome of 'winner takes all'. We are absolutely convinced by the former deputy first minister of Northern Ireland, Seamus Mallon, who has warned against a "narrow vote" for Irish unity, cautioning that a premature Border poll will not lead to an agreed and peaceful Ireland and would lead to a return to violence. As such, Sinn Fein's repeated insistence on this issue is highly irresponsible.
To raise this issue again, however more nuanced, Mr Adams also misunderstands the fuller reasons behind the relative collapse in the Sinn Fein vote in the recent elections. That collapse is as much, if not more, to do with the failure of the party he once led to understand the shifts and movements in society here since the recovery of the economy and return to full employment, and a disillusionment with the raucous form of politics routinely applied by Sinn Fein ahead of a more constructive, not to mention effective, form of politics for the benefit of society as a whole.
There may well be many politicians in Sinn Fein aware of this, but they are being misdirected by the dangerous obsessions of the party's ultimate leadership in Belfast.