IRA victims will need to be persuaded to vote for a united Ireland, says Eastwood

SDLP leader says united Ireland not attainable without dealing with legacy of the past

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood: ‘We have to convince a lot of people who don’t currently want to vote for a united Ireland to vote for it.’ Photograph: Laura Hutton/The Irish Times

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood: ‘We have to convince a lot of people who don’t currently want to vote for a united Ireland to vote for it.’ Photograph: Laura Hutton/The Irish Times

 

Many people who were victims of IRA violence during the Troubles will have to be persuaded to vote for a united Ireland, the SDLP leader Colum Eastwood has said.

A lot of unionist people had “serious hurt and pain because of what the IRA did”, he maintained, as the Bloody Sunday families had been hurt and traumatised by the actions of the British army 50 years ago.

Mr Eastwood told a meeting of Ireland’s Future in Derry that unionists will need a lot of persuading of the merits of a united Ireland.

“We have to be realistic about this. We have to convince a lot of people who don’t currently want to vote for a united Ireland to vote for it,” he said.

“I don’t believe we can do this without dealing with the proper legacy of the past. It has to be about the future, but it does not go away. We have learned that after 20 years of the Good Friday Agreement, it affects the current politics and will infect this debate in ways that I don’t think we are prepared for.

“I believe in truth and justice. I want it from the British Government and I want it from the IRA as well.”

Opportunity

Sinn Féin MLA Declan Kearney said his party was committed to addressing the legacy of the past.

“In the context of a new constitutional arrangement on this island, we need to put reconciliation and healing at the core of our political and civic institutions,” he said.

“Irish unity is the defining issue of our generation. We need to find common ground across the greatest cross-section of political and civic society. This is going to be a societal endeavour. Politicians cannot and should not deliver constitutional change.”

Irish Examiner journalist Aoife Grace Moore, whose uncle Patrick Doherty, was murdered on Bloody Sunday, said her life was shaped by the Troubles though she is part of the ceasefire generation.

“It is up to my generation – we have the opportunity to make a real difference in the North,” she said.

“I am not really interested in a conversation about flags and anthems. That is completely missing the point. I would like to talk about giving young people better outcomes and lifting them out of poverty.

“The brain drain of people from the young people leaving the North is devastating and it was not supposed to be this way.”

Queens University Belfast Prof Colin Harvey told the meeting that Ireland’s Future will be publishing a major document presently about the health services in both jurisdiction.

He has been criticised by some Brexit-supporting unionists for advocating for a united Ireland, but he said academics should be involved in the major issues facing society.

“I have a very strong belief that academics should not just sit in libraries and they should not be fearful for doing so,” he said.

“We want to get this right. Nobody wants a situation where where people are painting lies on the sides of buses. People want an evidenced-based planned approach to constitutional change.”