Devolution to Belfast ‘could aid’ move for united Ireland

Sinn Féin MEP repeats call for vote on unification in event of British exit from EU

Achieving a united Ireland could involve "transitional arrangements" short of unity that could include continued devolved government in Northern Ireland, a Sinn Féin MEP has told a peace conference that was also addressed by President Michael D Higgins.

Midlands North-West MEP Matt Carthy said on Saturday that those who wish to see a united Ireland should be "open, imaginative and accommodating" in their approach to bringing it about.

This, he said, might include the consideration of "transitional arrangements which could perhaps mean continued devolution to Belfast within an all-Ireland structure".

Mr Carthy made his comments at a conference in the Corrymeela Centre in Ballycastle, Co Antrim, which was organised by the Irish Association and the Corrymeela Community.


Sinn Féin flagged up the speech suggesting this could mark a shift from its previous concept of how unity could be achieved. Mr Carthy also used the phrase an "agreed Ireland", an expression associated with former SDLP leader John Hume, and a phrase that Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness used at the recent Sinn Féin ardfheis in Dublin.

“The only type of united Ireland that interests me in is one that is agreed, inclusive, pluralist and which is constructed by all our citizens, from whatever background or tradition,” said Mr Carthy.

Mr Carthy also said that if Britain voted to leave the EU there would a “democratic imperative to allow people in Ireland to vote on Irish unity”.


Mr Higgins also told the conference that there is a great deal to be gained in sharing a process of commemoration, including some of the most divisive episodes in Ireland’s history.

Mr Higgins was at Corrymeela as part of a day-long visit to Northern Ireland on Saturday. Earlier in the day he was at the Ulster Museum in south Belfast to view an exhibition on the Easter Rising and the Battle of the Somme called Remembering 1916: Your Stories.

At Corrymeela Mr Higgins said people on the island were challenged to forge a public discourse that can accommodate “both the Easter Rising of 1916, a founding moment in the Irish Republic’s journey to Independence, and the Battle of the Somme, a terrible loss of lives which has acquired such symbolic centrality for the unionist tradition on our island”.

Drawing from the philosophy of Paul Ricoeur, he said "narrative hospitality" opens up a productive avenue for dealing with the past and through commemoration we can all learn to understand ourselves better.

The President told delegates he is looking forward to honouring the memory of those who fell at the Somme when he travels to France on July 1st.

“Doing so, it is not some abstract idea of sacrifice that I will be invoking, but these men’s lives in their families and communities, the special circumstances of their lives together in the conditions of war, and also of the immense human potential that was lost in that war – those futures that were taken from them,” he said.

“Indeed a concern with the future – the future that could have happened; and the future that is yet to take place – is at the heart of the commemorative process,” he added.

Mr Higgins suggested when reflecting on how we can “live well together beyond 2016” that it must be acknowledged that the greatest suffering on the island of Ireland is “caused by the denial of opportunity to some, based, not on religious of political distinction, but on the social exclusion, vulnerability and inequality which characterise the lives of too many citizens in our cities and in our towns”.

“The challenge for this generation is to achieve prosperity and social cohesion within the frame of our global responsibilities towards sustainability and climate change,” he said.