People in the Republic need to reflect on how to engage ‘more positively’ with unionists - Taoiseach

North-South institutions of Good Friday Agreement not fully functioning, which is a critical absence that must be resolved, says Martin

People in the Republic need to reflect on how to engage “more positively and proactively” with unionists and British identity, Taoiseach Micheál Martin has said.

In a video address to an event in Derry as part of the Government’s Shared Island initiative, Mr Martin also said the principles in the Belfast Agreement are “not just warm words”, rather they are “the foundation for an inclusive, respectful, honest and thriving society”.

Young people from across communities, regions and identities, North and South, gathered at St Columb’s Hall for the event entitled: “Identities on a Shared Island – New Generation Views”.

Mr Martin said the 1998 Belfast Agreement has brought “enduring peace” but there is no room for complacency.

“The power-sharing and North-South institutions of the Good Friday Agreement are, once again, not fully functioning, which is a critical absence that must be resolved.

“People in Northern Ireland – unionists, nationalist and others – do have genuine concerns about the outworkings of Brexit, and its impacts in practical terms.

“These need to be worked on sincerely by all with responsibilities, on the basis of real partnership under the Good Friday Agreement and the interests of all of the people of Northern Ireland,” he said.

He indicated that will remain the basis of the Irish Government’s approach.

“While there has been a transformation of attitudes, still today, we see appalling instances of abuse of others’ cultural or national identity,” he said.

“We must all stand together to not only condemn such behaviour, but to render it unacceptable in our communities, at any time or place. I have no doubt that we can.

“We do, I believe, need to reflect in the South on how we could engage more positively and proactively with unionist and loyalist cultural traditions. And indeed, with the diversity of British identity more broadly, after a century of independence.”

He said that in Northern Ireland “respect and tolerance for linguistic and cultural diversity requires continued political leadership and attention, and the support of the two Governments as co-guarantors of the agreement”.

“It is important also to acknowledge the growing numbers of people in Northern Ireland who don’t identify with either unionist or nationalist traditions.”

He said that people are generally “ahead of the politics of the peace process”.

“They know that identity isn’t a political contest, it’s a personal construct, an accident of birth, experience and individual makeup.”

Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn is a Political Correspondent at The Irish Times