Unionist parties decline invitation

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Unionist parties have declined invitations from Taoiseach Enda Kenny to attend the constitutional convention which begins its work in Dublin today facing criticism over the anonymity of its 66 citizen members.

The 100-member convention made up of politicians and randomly selected citizens has been asked to consider whether the voting age should be reduced to 17 and the President’s term from seven years to five as part of a wider series of potential constitutional reforms.

Northern Ireland’s biggest party, the Democratic Unionist Party, will not attend. A spokesman indicated Mr Kenny’s invitation was turned down because the party considered the convention an internal matter for the Republic.

The smaller Ulster Unionist Party will also not be represented, although a spokesman said the party remained open to the possibility of engaging on an ad hoc basis. “We received a very kind invitation from an Taoiseach, and after careful consideration of the terms of reference of the convention, came to the conclusion that their work pertains to matters that are internal to the Republic of Ireland,” he said.

Other members of the Northern Ireland Assembly will attend, including Sinn Féin Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness. Other MLAs who have confirmed are Alban Maginness of the SDLP, Stewart Dickson from the Alliance and the Green Party’s Stephen Agnew. All parties in the Republic are sending delegations.

They will gather in Dublin Castle to hear from Mr Kenny, Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore and other party leaders. The convention will receive presentations from experts on the Constitution on the experience of citizens’ assemblies in other countries. It will report to Government on same-sex marriage and amending the constitutional clause on women in the home.

The National Union of Journalists yesterday called on convention chairman Tom Arnold to ensure the hearings operated “with maximum transparency”. The union’s Irish secretary Séamus Dooley has also called on Mr Kenny and Mr Gilmore “to take steps to end the secrecy surrounding the names of the 66 citizen members”.

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