This post posits two possibilities. One of them will soon turn out to be correct. All that remains to be seen is which one, although it would be possible for aspects of both to happen together.
The First Possibility
Any affection for Sinn Féin on the part of what is now the anti-austerity Left can be attributed only to nostalgia. But you cannot make peace with no one, so Sinn Féin has always been indispensable to any Executive under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement, while no other single party is.
Thus, the IRA Army Council has been exercising in the Six Counties since as long ago as 1998 its claim to sovereignty throughout the 32 County Republic of 1916. Anyone doubting that need look no further than the funeral of Bobby Storey, followed by the decision of the Police that no Covid-19 regulations has been breached.
Storey's coffin was borne to its rest by Gerry Adams, Martin Ferris, Sean Hughes, Gerry Kelly, Martin "Duckster" Lynch, and Sean "Spike" Murray. At any given time, there are seven members of the Army Council. Of the deceased and his six pallbearers, only Ferris was from the 26 Counties. There, however, Sinn Féin might have entered government if it had fielded enough candidates at the last General Election to the Dáil. It will certainly field enough next time.
Handpicked for Leadership by an Army Council that was based almost entirely in what it never called "Northern Ireland", Michelle O'Neill as First Minister would be a detail, since that Council would effectively have been in charge there for 24 years, regardless of how many votes its partisans, who had sometimes included its members, had obtained.
But handpicked for Leadership by an Army Council that was based almost entirely in what it never called "Northern Ireland", Mary Lou McDonald as Taoiseach of what that Council did not regard as the real Republic of Ireland would be a seismic event, effectively extending the exercise of the IRA's claim to sovereignty across the entire territory claimed, and to the means of a sovereign state's participation in international affairs.
Who would need a border poll? Why would the IRA want one? No referendum would ever endorse rule by the Army Council. Once that were established across the whole of Ireland, then the beneficiaries would never wish to give it up, and everyone else would find it practically impossible to make them. That day is now well within sight.
The Second Possibility
The United Kingdom's governing party has no connection to Northern Ireland. The SDLP's MPs take the Labour Whip, and the Liberal Democrats have close ties to the rising Alliance Party. But no one who was even generically a Tory won a seat in Northern Ireland in 2019, and one of their two second places was still 12,721 votes behind. One of their third places was where there were only three candidates, and they did a great deal worse than that in most places, where they stood at all.
It would always have been impossible to have become or remained Prime Minister if you had said that the Union with Scotland was anything other than permanent and nonnegotiable. But it would always have been impossible to have become or remained Prime Minister if you had said that the Union with Northern Ireland was permanent or nonnegotiable. If you doubt this, then cite the occasion on which any Prime Minister or Leader of the Opposition ever has said that.
There was no referendum on abortion in Northern Ireland, so it is more of a colony than Gibraltar is. There was a referendum on same-sex marriage in Saint Helena, but not in Northern Ireland. As newly independent Britain sets sail into the world, it has irredentist territorial disputes with at least three other G20 countries. In descending order of emotional importance to Tory England, those are with Argentina over the Falkland Islands, with Spain over Gibraltar, and with the United States (and the European Union) over a United Ireland.
People who would either not regret, or would positively welcome, Scottish independence, would send other people to war to keep the Falklands, although not any other British Overseas Territory. Yes, there was a war over them once. The decidedly longer war in Northern Ireland ended far more recently, but everyone was told to forget about it, so they did. An Army Council comprised of IRA veterans from that period now exercises de facto sovereignty over the Six Counties, which are made to have abortion so that they can be incorporated into a 32 County Republic, just as Gibraltar is strongly encouraged to have abortion so that it can be reincorporated into Spain.
Perhaps Northern Ireland should have a referendum on the Protocol, which is of course a breach of the Act of Union, since that is the point of it? The Yes vote, possibly in every constituency, would indicate quite how middle-class the place was becoming. Like the rise of the Alliance Party, like the resurgence of the Lib Dems in the monied shires of Southern England, and like the vote of those areas to Remain, it would bespeak that the vote was a nice thing to have, but that people who got their way by other means every day did not really need it.
If 60 per cent of the laws to which they were subject were made without the formal participation of their elected representatives, well, those were still going to be the laws that they themselves wanted, because that was how the world worked. See also the imposition of abortion. They have no concept of having no voice but the vote, short of striking, or rioting, or setting off a bomb.
The emerging Alliance electorate was always a very ill fit for the DUP, and vice versa. The DUP's roots are working-class, paramilitary from the start, and above all fundamentalist, a word that is proudly used in self-description by the tiny Free Presbyterian Church of Ulster, which barely exists in the places that have gone from the UUP, to the DUP, and increasingly now to Alliance. The late Ian Paisley was always surrounded by paramilitaries, they still routinely get the vote out for the DUP, and Ulster Resistance has never even declared a ceasefire.
Yet the presently Unionist electoral bloc in the Six Counties would always hold the balance of power in the Dáil of the 32 County Republic. After a generation of working with Sinn Féin, then working with Fianna Fáil, never mind with Fine Gael, would be a doddle. Indeed, such parliamentary votes, making real the orange stripe on the Tricolour, would more probably be used to support Sinn Féin, which would be a known quantity to the people who were casting those votes.
Sinn Féin now says that there cannot be a United Ireland without a National Health Service. That was long a sticking point for many of us. Independence had kept the 26 Counties out of the Attlee Settlement, and its completion would have deprived the Six Counties of what remained of that Settlement, most importantly the NHS. But no more.
Even the 26 County State has always been under very considerable Protestant influence. Two out of nine Presidents have been Protestants, double the figure that the composition of the population would suggest. One of them had the too perfect upper-class English accent that only Irish and Scottish aristocrats can manage.
Well into the 1960s, more than 40 years after Irish independence, Guinness refused to employ Catholics in any managerial capacity, and it was owned by the dynasty that provided four successive Conservative Members of Parliament for Southend, a town a mere 40 miles from the centre of London.
The last one, who had been a Cabinet Minister under Margaret Thatcher, did not retire until 1997 and did not die until 10 years after that.
There is much emphasis on land reform as having allegedly broken the power of the Ascendancy.
But in fact the Anglo-Irish Protestants continued to own everything from the breweries, to the banks, to interests such as Merville Dairy, all of which practised frank anti-Catholic discrimination in employment for many decades after independence.
No one who was even nominally a Catholic was made Editor of The Irish Times until as recently as 1986, 64 years after independence. And so on.
The last United Ireland, the Kingdom of Ireland and then the whole of Ireland within the United Kingdom, was the only United Ireland that there has ever been, and it was run by Protestants. Those Protestants were considered Irish without complication by everyone, including themselves, until they took the Unionist side, for reasons of Irish self-interest as they saw it, in the early twentieth century. To his dying day, Lord Carson saw Partition as having been a defeat. A Dubliner, he never liked the North.
The only way that a state in Ireland could be run by or for even the ethnically Catholic atheists who now ran the 26 Counties would be to partition the predominantly Protestant counties out of that state altogether, or at least to create a very highly federal system. Something like that was at least as much the reason for Partition as anything else was. But that century is drawing to a close.
With varying degrees of straight-facedness, Ulster Protestants profess to believe that the English are godless, that the English do not know how to fight, and that the English have questionable standards when it comes to keeping clean and tidy. They never, ever cheer for England at anything. All of that sounds suspiciously like the Irish, even before mentioning the fact that they not only live on the island of Ireland, but speak with the heaviest Irish accents to be heard anywhere on that island. They are Irish. Of course they are Irish.
Irish Republicanism was founded by Protestants, and Ulster Presbyterians were once such stalwarts of it that they carried it across the Atlantic, to tumultuous effect. The founders, though, were what would now be called Anglicans, and it is they whom the orange stripe celebrates. They were no more interested in the enfranchisement of their Gaelic, Catholic-cum-pagan tenants and servants than their contemporaries and correspondents, the American Founding Fathers, were interested in the enfranchisement of the "Indians not taxed" or of their own Negro slaves.
The ritual of the Orange Order is also of obviously Anglican rather than Presbyterian origin, and the Orange Lodges opposed the Union of 1801. They said that the uncomprehending English would take one look at Ireland and let Catholics sit in Parliament to keep the peace. It took 28 years, but they were proved right. The Orange Order exists to maintain, not the Union, which is purely a means, but the Protestant supremacy. Look out for that in the rapidly approaching new order.