The organisers of the largest conference to date on the prospect of a united Ireland believe Irish unity is now “the issue of our time”.
Ireland’s Future event at Dublin’s 3Arena on Saturday entitled Together We Can will feature 34 speakers in a venue with a seating capacity of 9,000.
Ireland’s Future is a civic organisation founded in 2017 to campaign for a united Ireland. It has hosted more than a dozen smaller events across the island of Ireland, in London and in the United States, but none on this scale before.
Among the speakers will be Tánaiste Leo Varadkar, Northern Ireland first minister designate Michelle O’Neill, Sinn Féin president Mary Lou McDonald, Labour Party leader Ivana Bacik, Fianna Fáil TD Jim O’Callaghan, Fine Gael TD Neale Richmond, SDLP leader Colum Eastwood, the US congressman Brendan Boyle and the US secretary of labor Marty Walsh.
Musicians Maighréad Ní Mhaonaigh, Denise Chaila and Dónal Lunny will perform at it and the keynote address will be given by the actor Jimmy Nesbitt.
Ireland’s Future chief executive, Gerry Carlile, said he expected “thousands” of people to attend on Saturday, but did not forecast a specific figure. “We will know the exact figure at 1pm on Saturday when the event begins,” he said.
He said Ireland’s Future relied solely on its “patron scheme and the generosity of donors. Ireland’s Future is a totally open and transparent organisation and observes best practice in relation to financial matters and adheres to all regulatory norms.” Tickets for the event cost €10 each.
All the major parties in the Republic will have participants in the event. There will be no representative from political unionism at the event though they were invited to participate. “We have been inviting unionist politicians to our events for the last number of years and we will continue to invite them. Ireland is a changing place and we need to plan and prepare for potential constitutional change,” Mr Carlile explained.
The Alliance Party has declined to participate on Saturday describing it as a “rally to endorse a united Ireland” though one of its MPs, Stephen Farry, had participated in a similar event previously in London.
In a statement, the party said it “continues to engage in discussions around the future of these islands on a non-prejudicial basis, including a recent panel event for Ireland’s Future and through the Seanad Éireann consultation on the constitutional future of the island of Ireland”.
“However, we felt the nature of this event – a rally to endorse a united Ireland – was not an appropriate event for us to participate in. This was explained to the organisers, who understood and respected our decision.”
Mr Carlile said the Alliance Party was entitled to make that decision, but its neutrality on the constitutional issue was “untenable” in the long run.
“To say bread and butter issues are more important than the constitutional question is fine but when you can’t feed your family or heat your house because of British government policies then it could be time to rethink your position,” he said.
“The reality is we are governed by a government that we can’t vote in or out. In a united Ireland we’ll be governed by a government that we actually vote for. Alliance also want re-entry to the European Union and a united Ireland is currently the only way for the North to re-enter the EU.”