Nationalists looking at ‘new constitutional horizons’, Belfast conference hears

DUP’s ‘sneering contempt’ for parity of esteem and Irish language criticised

Deputy leader of Fianna Fail Dara Calleary (left), Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald (second left), SDLP leader Colum Eastwood and Minister for Education Joe McHugh (right) at today’s conference in Belfast. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA

Deputy leader of Fianna Fail Dara Calleary (left), Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald (second left), SDLP leader Colum Eastwood and Minister for Education Joe McHugh (right) at today’s conference in Belfast. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA

 

Brexit has changed everything leading to a current “seismic shift” within nationalism, one of the main organisers of a “civic nationalism” conference stated at the Belfast Waterfront Hall on Saturday.

Up to 1,500 people who are attending the “Beyond Brexit – The Future or Ireland” conference heard Belfast solicitor Niall Murphy say that nationalists in Northern Ireland were now “looking to new constitutional and political horizons”.

“We are looking towards the outworking of the Good Friday Agreement and its recognition of the absolute legitimacy and validity to aspire towards Irish unity,” he told the large gathering.

Mr Murphy was fiercely critical of the DUP and others in political unionism who, he said, had “blocked the development of a shared, secular society based on rights, civil liberties and anti-sectarianism.

He complained about the “DUP’s sneering contempt for parity of esteem”, and its “sneering contempt” for an Irish language act as well as its opposition to same sex-marriage legislation.

“Our language is an intrinsic part of all of our identity as citizens, yet we endure contemptuous taunts, such as Curry My Yoghurt and Crocodiles and the cancellation of microscopic bursaries for the Donegal Gaeltacht,” he said.

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Mr Murphy said “Brexit has changed everything” and “old certainties have gone”.

“Most significantly, between December 2017 and November 2018, the nationalist discontent to which we gave popular expression has not only grown, in fact a seismic shift has occurred within wider nationalist opinion,” he said.

And referring to how Sinn Féin does not take its House of Commons seats Mr Murphy added: “Having turned its back on Westminster in June 2017, nationalism is now looking beyond the parameters of what was the Northern state.”

Mr Murphy, who described Northern Ireland as a “micro jurisdiction” said “conversations about the future, and future constitutional change, are happening in unexpected places”.

“Every single citizen in the North, and beyond, is entitled to civil and religious liberties, equality, parity of esteem and to live free from sectarian discrimination or attack and all forms of bigotry and intolerance,” he added.

Speakers at the conference include the Minister for Education Joe McHugh, the Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald, the SDLP leader Colum Eastwood and Fianna Fail TD Dara Calleary.

One of the early speakers at the morning session was Mr McHugh who said that “getting power-sharing up and running and working well is the best first step that can be taken by those who wish to advocate for a united Ireland”.

“Letting the institutions drift on in a state of suspended animation is a path that leads only to further polarisation and dysfunction — and that is why the Government is completely focussed on helping to get them working again,” he said.

Mr McHugh reiterated Dublin’s commitment to the Belfast Agreement principle of consent where any change in the status of Northern Ireland only can happen through a Border poll and a vote of the majority of the people in the North.

“The Irish Government believes that a border poll in the current climate would be unsuccessful and would only succeed in creating further division,” he said.

Referring to last Saturday’s New IRA car bombing in Derry Mr McHugh said it was “vital that everyone in the community support the police in bringing the perpetrators of this attack to justice”. To applause he said: “I would say to whoever was behind those events: you are not acting on behalf of the Irish people. You represent nothing but conflict and fear and destruction, and you will not succeed in dragging us all back into the dark days of the past.”

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