Up to 1,500 people to attend ‘civic nationalism’ conference in Belfast

Senior Dáil figures to speak but unionists not invited because of their Brexit stance

Minister for Education Joe McHugh among the expected speakers. Photograph: Alan Betson

Minister for Education Joe McHugh among the expected speakers. Photograph: Alan Betson

 

Senior Dáil politicians, including a Government Minister, are to address a “civic nationalism” conference in Belfast on Saturday week (January 26th) that will examine the future of Ireland in the context of Brexit.

Up to 1,500 people are expected to attend the “Beyond Brexit – The Future of Ireland” conference in Belfast’s Waterfront Hall.

The new group is called Ireland’s Future – Together in Europe, and one of the issues it is examining is a Border poll on a united Ireland.

Invited speakers will include the Minister for Education Joe McHugh, the Fianna Fáil deputy leader Dara Calleary, the Sinn Féin president Mary Lou McDonald and the SDLP leader Colum Eastwood.

One of the organisers, Belfast solicitor Niall Murphy, said on Thursday that it was “increasingly apparent that a new relationship between Ireland and Britain is now unavoidable”.

He confirmed that unionist politicians were not invited to speak.

“Political unionism had set its face against rights, against progressive, inclusive politics and has misrepresented the outcome of the referendum. This jurisdiction voted to remain and that is not being properly represented,” he said.

Mr Murphy described the conference as “the most significant constitutional event in a generation” and that he expected up to 1,500 people to attend. More than 500 people already have registered, he said.

“Conversations about the constitutional and political future of Ireland are happening in unexpected places, and involving all shades of opinion,” added Mr Murphy, who hosted a press conference announcing the conference with historian and commentator Brian Feeney.

Brexit

Mr Murphy said the discussion about a Border poll must be “conducted maturely and at a pace which is commensurate to people’s concerns”.

“Brexit has been imposed on us. Brexit has created the context for people to have new views and considerations and that needs responded to. There was no talk of a Border poll up and until Brexit became real in 2016. It is now real and a Border poll is part of that conversation,” he added.

The initiative flows from letters that the group representing “civic nationalism” wrote to the Taoiseach Leo Varadkar over the past 14 months. In December 2017 more than 200 people signed an open letter to Mr Varadkar urging him to “give voice” to concerns around Brexit, the collapse of powersharing at Stormont and the undermining of rights.

In November Mr Varadkar received a another letter, this time from more than 1,000 representatives of civic nationalism from business, arts, sports, culture, community, education and other areas of life.

Signatories to the letter included actors Adrian Dunbar and Ciarán McMenamin, footballer James McClean, singer Frances Black, and musicians Tommy Sands and Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh of Altan, and football agent Gerry Carlile, who also is involved in organising the conference.

Mr Murphy said Ireland’s Future would not be organising as a political party. He said it was also seeking to move on from its description of being representatives of civic nationalism.

“Going forward this is a conversation which is for all of society. This conversation is open for everybody and we hope and trust that everybody will partake it,” he said.

“It is a movement for everybody that wants to embrace their EU citizenship via their Irish citizenship,” added Mr Murphy.