Margaret Ritchie, launching the SDLP election campaign said:
"So let me spell it out loud and clear: Our job is nowhere near completed:
Yes we secured Civil Rights and Equality; We got the IRA to see the futility of its campaign and yes we got everyone to see that a powersharing devolved Government was essential. All basic SDLP objectives – all delivered.
But we are now targeting the next set of fundamentals which affect peoples lives. We are going to set the political agenda for the next generation by focusing on creating prosperity, building a Shared Future and planning, credibly, for Irish Unity"
"The SDLP believes in a United Ireland. Unambiguously.
We will work every day to lay the foundations upon which a United Ireland can be built – mutual trust, respect and protection for minorities.
We will take our unique ideas for achieving unity to the heart of decision-making in Dublin and London. We will press every party in Westminster to engage around the SDLP’s radical thinking on unity and our work will present people with the first detailed view of what Unity would look like - ever produced.
Further, we will not promise something unrealistic like Irish Unity by 2016, simply because it is the anniversary of the Easter Rising! Unlike others, we will be credible on Irish Unity."
Gerry Adams, also launching his party's election campaign yesterday, said:
"Sinn Féin is the united Ireland party. The all-Ireland party. The party with elected representatives in every forum on this island. From Cork to Derry, from Kerry to Down people vote Sinn Féin.
We are in the business of nation building. As Irish republicans we have put the issue of Irish re-unification onto the political agenda in London, Dublin, Washington and Belfast. We have engaged the Diaspora across the world in the campaign for a united Ireland.
We are also engaging with unionists on this issue at civic and community, as well as political level, and on social and economic, on bread and butter issues, as well as on the constitutional question.
Our vision for a united Ireland is unique amongst the parties in this election."
So when the votes are counted, on May 7 unionism should look closely at the combined nationalist score – because this represents the proportion of the electorate who 'unambiguously' support Irish reunification. If the proportion of the electorate that supports the two nationalist parties has increased from that of 2005 (41.8%, though without Kieran Deeny this would have been at least 1% higher) or 2001 (42.7%), then it is time to start worrying.
The nationalist proportion of the vote in Westminster elections has been increasing fairly steadily for a generation, and is getting closer to parity with unionism. Unionism, so long the 'majority community' is very close to simply having a plurality – and ultimately a minority. As the elderly – predominantly Protestant – die, and as the young – majority Catholic – start to vote, the gap will continue to close.
So, unionism – read their lips. It's all about Irish unity. And it's getting closer.