New website launched to ‘broaden debate’ on Northern Ireland’s future

Advocates for union and for united Ireland at least agree ‘future must be about respecting diversity’

The Parliament Buildings in the Stormont Estate in Belfast.  Prof Peter Shirlow said ‘the language of Irish unification is that of compromise and debate’. Photograph: Paul Faith

The Parliament Buildings in the Stormont Estate in Belfast. Prof Peter Shirlow said ‘the language of Irish unification is that of compromise and debate’. Photograph: Paul Faith


A new digital platform featuring a wide range of arguments for the union and for a united Ireland has been launched by the Institute of Irish Studies at the University of Liverpool.

The project, which is spearheaded by the Belfast head of the institute Prof Peter Shirlow, is supported by and has taken contributions from the main unionist and nationalist parties, the DUP, Sinn Féin, the Ulster Unionist Party and the SDLP.

It is also recognised and has received submissions from groups such as Ireland’s Future, which is leading the nationalist drive for a Border poll on a united Ireland, and by individual voices from across the island of Ireland.

The University of Liverpool initiative seeks to create a philosophical, historical, political, social and economic baseline for the continuing dialogue on the future of Northern Ireland.

Initially the website contains two animations, 30 vox pops of citizens, 20 podcasts and 80 blogs giving pro-union and pro-unity cases. It is planned that the project will expand and evolve to facilitate the heightening constitutional debate. Post Covid the institute also intends to hold live events across Ireland, Britain and the US.

Prof Shirlow said that what emerged from all the formative work so far was that “there is no singular perspective on Irish unification or remaining in the UK”.

Prof Shirlow said that “the language of Irish unification is that of compromise and debate”.

Despite viewing the future via different constitutional lenses both pro-union and pro-unity advocates agree that the future must be about respecting diversity and building greater interconnection,” he said.

Prof Shirlow said that in setting up the website he and his colleagues had found “thinking that stretches beyond the binary and which upholds parity of esteem and mutual respect”.

“The digital platform debunks the myth that debate is not feasible across the divide and that no community is disadvantaged or restricted in advancing their values and commitments by engaging in dialogue,” he said.

The project received external funding from the reconciliation fund of the Department of Foreign Affairs. The Civic Space inter-community initiative which promotes reconciliation and conflict transformation also was involved in setting up the digital platform.

Prof Shirlow said that the website broadened the “debate and shows that there are within both perspectives robust and evidenced arguments for constitutional change or otherwise”.

He added:“It highlights how the Good Friday Agreement has shifted society into an acknowledgement of co-dependency in terms of the future and a capacity to debate across the divide and more importantly to be heard. This initiative will help frame how debates could and should be conducted through evidence-led approaches and inter-community consultation.”

Prof Shirlow said the institute’s aim was to locate voices and opinions and to present these side by side. “In doing so we get beyond rudimentary ideas about the future and show the depth and reasoned commitment of both perspectives. Ultimately, we have facilitated the capacity to listen and for each perspective to understand commitment to dialogue across the divide.”

The digital platform can be viewed at: