Debate on unity is divisive and distracting

Sir, – Prof Colin Harvey, in his article "Debate on united Ireland can't wait until unionists are ready" (Opinion & Analysis, August 7th), concedes that the outcome of his approach "will, however packaged, be experienced as defeat" by political unionism.

This approach is directly contrary to the expressed view of John Hume who said, when accepting the Nobel Peace Prize, that the Belfast Agreement respects the identities of all, and “there will be no victory for either side”.

In that spirit, let us use our energy to embark wholeheartedly on a mission to share this island equally with all who live here; seeking to ensure it is prosperous, develops in tune with nature and is fit for all inhabitants, regardless of which anthem we adhere to. Such an approach threatens no-one and is respectful of all identities, traditions and allegiances.

The Irish Government’s Shared Island initiative is seeking to advance that process, without referendums or further constitutional change, and without acceptance or rejection of a united Ireland. Therein lies the clear conceptual distinction between a “shared island” and a “united Ireland’. To pretend otherwise is to set the scene for a divisive and distracting and unresolvable debate around identity and allegiance, when there are so many other very urgent issues demanding our attention. We need to combat global warming and ensure a just transition; manage the outworking of new technology on our working and private lives; seek to ensure the delivery of high-quality comprehensive healthcare and educational services for all; build affordable homes for everyone; develop our cities, towns and rural communities in ways that enhances our lives; and reform our agrifood industry so that it contributes to the sustainability of our planet. And in the meantime navigate our way through the current pandemic. A huge agenda, none of which will be addressed or resolved by a polarising debate on a “united Ireland” or preparations by Government for border polls.


Let’s have the interplay of the values and principles of all political persuasions on this island contributing to and shaping the evolution of our shared island. Let’s negotiate a “Good Neighbour Pact” between North and South which reassures that the shared island approach is not a Trojan horse for a united Ireland.

If in the future a broad consensus emerges that the relationships within, and between these islands, would benefit from a new constitutional framework that encompasses the plurality of our allegiances, identities and cultures, so be it. And if not we will have lost nothing by concentrating now on what is urgent, achievable, and most likely to contribute to the wellbeing of all who live on this island. – Yours, etc,


(Former TD and MEP),

Dublin 11.