Sinn Fein’s Rose Conway Walsh had a bone to pick with the Taoiseach yesterday, pointing out that the programme for Government does not mention a united Ireland:

It sounds like a reasonable question, apart from one thing: She refers to a “constitutional commitment to achieving a united Ireland”.

There’s no such thing – the Irish constitution, post 1998, is completely silent on the matter. That’s not to say it’s not a legitimate political aspiration, but talking about Irish unity as if it’s some sort of constitutional obligation is just false.

That’s not the problem Mr. Martin had with her, though. Watch:

He’s quite right, there. Whether Republicans like it or not, “a united Ireland”, for many unionists, is just shorthand for “letting the IRA win”. And not just for unionists, either. There are plenty of people in the south of Ireland who wouldn’t be all that keen on the IRA parades and commemorations that would follow a successful vote on unity. At a stroke, the IRA campaign would be re-cast as part of an inevitable and legitimate struggle for self-determination.

There are plenty of people, north and south, who’d probably rather see the six counties burn than give the IRA that legitimacy.

And he’s right about another thing, too: The road to a united Ireland, if there is one, is about more than mentioning the idea like some sort of token in every government document. It’s about persuading a majority of voters in the Northern State – including a good few from the unionist community, that a United Ireland is in their economic and political interest.

Casting it as a Sinn Fein idea probably doesn’t help with that.

Mind you, is there any evidence that Sinn Fein are actually serious about a United Ireland in the first place? If it was achieved, a big chunk of their raison d’etre would disappear overnight. Part of their enduring attraction, especially for the young and foolish, is joining the struggle. If there was, suddenly, overnight agreement on Unity, then it would be a struggle no longer.

Sinn Fein know all of this, of course. Casting themselves as the party of unity, or whatever, is good politics, for just as long as they can keep failing to achieve it. It provides them with both a cause, and, more importantly, bad people standing in the way of the cause, like, in this case, Fianna Fáil, who are to be cast as fake republicans.

They’re also surely aware how much their continued celebration of the terrorist campaign antagonises the unionist community. The Bobby Storey funeral, effectively a political rally, since Storey’s wasn’t even in the graveyard for it, was all about highlighting the links between modern SF leaders and the old kneecappers. A party that actually wanted to engage on the issue of unity would be putting distance between this generation of leaders and the IRA heads who came before – it would be “message: we’re different now, and respect you”.

But that’s not what Sinn Fein do, is it? With Michelle O’Neill, the message that’s always sent out, as loudly and consciously as possible, is that the retired murderers are proud of her, and she’s proud of them in return – they’re family. What Michelle and Mary-Lou want is exactly the same as the south Armagh brigade want.

If you’re a moderate, Brexit-hating, DUP-sceptical unionist somewhere like North Down, it’s possible that an argument about unity could, over time, begin to make sense, so long as you had reassurances that the republican cause had changed, and that your culture and identity would be protected and respected. But making that case becomes much harder when the local Sinn Feiner is a young fella with a Bobby Sands tattoo who’s fond of saying chucky ar la after a pint or two.

The Taoiseach’s right here. Sinn Fein aren’t interested in Unity. They’re interested in winning votes, north and south, off the idea of unity. And the more they do so, the further away Unity gets.