Why is a united Ireland desirable? 34 speakers to address the issue at Ireland’s Future conference

Ireland’s Future : Views of some of those who will participate in the event on Saturday

Colum Eastwood MP, SDLP leader

What will your message be?

The SDLP’s message will be that Irish unity is the best and most radical idea around if we want to build a new society that creates opportunity and prosperity for everyone, regardless of who you are or what your background is.

Why is a united Ireland desirable?

The project of building a new Ireland isn’t about righting historic wrongs or undoing hundreds of years of history. It’s about working together to forge a society that cherishes all the traditions and all the people that share our island and setting out a new vision for the future.

Successive opinion polls have showed there is no majority support for a united Ireland in the North. How will you persuade Northern voters that a united Ireland is in their interests?

If you look at the situation facing people in the North today - with a Tory government that has just flash crashed their currency, sent markets into meltdown and created a living nightmare for anyone with a mortgage, all so that they could give a tax break to millionaires, no one can say that the people I represent are best served by that. Britain today is more and more an unequal and unjust society. What we’re saying is that we don’t have to suffer it. We can create a social democratic new Ireland together where wealth redistribution is focussed on eliminating poverty and want, not going to the richest 1 per cent. That’s a future worth spilling our sweat for.

Neale Richmond: Fine Gael TD

What will your message be?

Brexit has shown us what happens when you don’t prepare or plan for major change. There is a growing possibility of a border poll due to factors beyond our control and therefore the responsible action to take is to prepare and to start the difficult conversations that will decide the shape of any new, united Ireland.


Why is a united Ireland desirable?

Of course, there is an emotional attachment to a united Ireland that so many of us share that we cannot put into words. To want to reunite our country isn’t something we necessarily should have to justify, we desire it because it is a natural and desirable concept. But crucially, uniting our island into one unitary state within the EU will help boost the economy, North and South, and by bringing together our two economies we can simplify our healthcare systems, public transport, education and more. There is massive scope to take the very best aspects of North and South and bring them together in a new, better, united Ireland.

Successive opinion polls have showed there is no majority support for a united Ireland in the North. How will you persuade Northern voters that a united Ireland is in their interests?

I’ve been in politics for long enough that I know that polls can change on a dime. The work that we’re all doing now is laying the ground work for a potential border poll; ensuring that we’re doing all we can to bring everyone along with us, while maintaining respect for those who disagree with us.

For voters in Northern Ireland, if they do not have a natural dispensation towards voting for a united Ireland, there are very strong economic arguments to persuade people that they would be materially better off in a united Ireland. Disposable incomes are 12 per cent higher in the south, 1.5 times more people live in poverty in Northern Ireland than in the south, there are more university places per student and it costs one-third less to attend third-level education.

The argument to stay in the NHS is certainly an emotive and strong one but in the south, life expectancy is higher and infant mortality is lower. For many people, the emotional attachment to staying in the UK is stronger than any economic argument and we cannot overcome that, which is perfectly fine and must be respected. Also, it cannot be forgotten that there is a job of work to do to convince voters in the South of the huge benefits that a United Ireland will bring and to counter many of the often lazy assumptions in relation to economic and political impacts of unity.

Ivana Bacik TD: Labour Party leader

What will your message be?

As the oldest political party in the State, Labour aspires to achieve an agreed, united island, founded on fairness and equality for all people on the island. We believe that a huge amount of genuine and sincere preparatory work must be done in both jurisdictions in advance of any referendum on unity, in order to ensure that people on both sides of the Border are clear on what it is they are voting on, and that a new, agreed and united island would be a state accepted by all communities on the island.

Why is a united Ireland desirable?

The Labour movement, in its many guises, has a proud tradition both north and south of the Border. But the success of Labour as a political party or as a trade union movement has undoubtedly been deeply affected by the partitioning of the island – just as every aspect of our economic, political and social system has been.

We are ultimately Connollyite republicans who believe our nation would be better united. Like our sister Party the SDLP, who like us are members of the PES, we share a strong commitment to the achievement of a social Europe and a recognition of the vital importance of the European project and the EU to the future of this island.

We in Labour stand for a real republic across the island – one which values equality and redistribution more than just semantics; one which can see beyond sectarianism; one which recognises that true equality is based on pluralism.

Successive opinion polls have showed there is no majority support for a united Ireland in the North. How will you persuade Northern voters that a united Ireland is in their interests?

We must learn from the mistakes of Brexit in order to avoid confusion or dangerous division. We have yet to do the work necessary to enable people to make an informed choice in a referendum about the future of the island, on both sides of the border; to protect our island’s most marginalised communities from the consequences of a hasty campaign, or the vanity project of any one group seeking ideological victory.

This process will require generosity on the part of everyone on the island. Unification means a unity of people before any unity of territory. The spirit of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement remains the yardstick we should both adhere with and be inspired by. Labour wants a united Ireland, a shared island and it believes in our potential to build a true republic.

To get there, an all-island citizens’ assembly or assemblies, approved by the Stormont Assembly as well as the Oireachtas, must be constituted. Preparatory work in advance of establishing the assembly/assemblies needs to be an all of Government agenda. The best way to do this is to revive the old Green and White Paper tradition of assembling the evidence and identifying both problems and solutions before proceeding.

The Green Paper brings together the broad range of issues and the White Paper focuses on possible solutions. I think this process will help identify issues that require discussion and deliberation at open and visible citizens’ assemblies. It can bring together the academic work being done at the moment, and address areas that are not being adequately addressed.

Jim O’Callaghan, Fianna Fáil TD

What will your message be?

My message will be that supporters of unity need to broaden the conversation so that those who oppose or are ambivalent will become aware of what a United Ireland will look like and, more importantly, will not look like.

It needs to be emphasised that a United Ireland will guarantee protections for everyone living on the island. For instance, it must guarantee respect for the practice or non-practice of all religions.

It must guarantee that the Ulster Scots/British heritage of people living on the island will be valued as equally as those who have a Gaelic/Old Irish heritage.

It must recognise that many people in Northern Ireland will remain loyal to the British Crown and that, consequently, a United Ireland cannot demand the loyalty of all persons living on the island. It must earn that loyalty.

It must guarantee closer East-West relations between the central and devolved governments of our two islands. It must also convince people that Northern Ireland will not become politically and economically submerged under the control of the new entity.

This could be achieved by guaranteeing that Stormont - whether under a federal or bicameral system - will remain a house of legislature, and that foreign direct investment shall be shared equally between both former jurisdictions. Finally, the legacy of violence in support of a United Ireland has had a lasting and negative impact on many who oppose unity. All supporters of unity must guarantee that at no stage will they engage in or support violence to promote their desired political objective and to achieve constitutional change.

Why is a united Ireland desirable?

A united Ireland is desirable because it would transform relations within the island and between both islands by bringing people closer together and, consequently, increasing opportunities for young people. Reuniting a country that was partitioned on religious grounds would also be a shining example for the world of how political maturity can reconcile ancient conflicts.

Successive opinion polls have shown there is no majority support for a united Ireland in the North. How will you persuade Northern voters that a united Ireland is in their interests?

By informing them that a United Ireland would not be an oppressive Southern takeover but would instead involve an unprecedented decision by two jurisdictions that were partitioned because of religious difference to come back together because of their respect for that, and other, difference.

Senator Eileen Flynn, independent senator

What will your message be?

My message will be that we need an Ireland that works for everyone. We need a fair Ireland for everyone, an Ireland that gives everyone equality of opportunity. I want to see a united Ireland that meets people where they’re at. Ireland today is a very different Ireland than it was, becoming more diverse as we welcome people from different communities and cultures.

I think it’s important that while we embrace Irish culture and the Irish language that we also celebrate other cultures and other ways of life. We in the South also have a lot to learn in terms of showing unionist communities in the North that their traditions and culture will be respected in a united Ireland and that there will be unionist voices at all levels of government.

I’d like to name Travellers here too, because we are part of this society, North and South, and too often that’s forgotten. We are indigenous Irish people, and I would like to see the Traveller community and Traveller culture recognised and respected in this way.

Why is a united Ireland desirable?

Partition has been a disaster for this island. Not just because of the conflict but also how border counties, particularly Donegal, have been left behind in terms of infrastructure, health and industry.

I would like to see a united Ireland that can reach the whole of its potential without the limits of partition, and one where there are not two-tier systems we see today – in health, for example.

Successive opinion polls have showed there is no majority support for a united Ireland in the North. How will you persuade Northern voters that a united Ireland is in their interests?

The numbers in favour of a united Ireland in the North seem to be growing all the time, and I expect that in the reasonably near future a majority will be in favour of a united Ireland. However, we need to bring everyone with us. We need to leave the door open, and invite people in.

In terms of persuading Northern voters, I believe if we work hard to build positive relationships of understanding and mutual respect we can build a nation that works for the benefit of all its citizens.

I’ve said before that when I come into a room I ask: “Who’s not here?” We need to bring everyone with us through discussion, through addressing concerns and through building a fair Ireland, an Ireland that looks after working class people, people from ethnic minority groups – all of us. And that we all have a space in the discussions and we’re all an equal voice in our society, because I think that’s what’s missing.

Orla O’Connor, Director National Women’s Council:

What will your message be?

The voices of women and civil society organisations, including women’s organisations, must be central to our deliberations on the future of Ireland. We know from the NWC’s All-Island Women’s Forum, which has been bringing together 14 women from the South and 14 from Northern Ireland, that women want to move beyond the binary divide between unionists and nationalists in Northern Ireland. Women want to talk about and recognise the multiple identities of women, as migrant women, women living in rural communities, disabled women etc. Our focus must be on creating a better, more equal Ireland for all, looking at the lived experiences of people and developing concrete actions to improve people’s lives across the island of Ireland.

Why is a united Ireland desirable?

The National Women’s Council does not have a mandate from our members with regard to a united Ireland. NWC members are working together to facilitate discussions on the future of a shared island.

Andrew Clarke, history student from a unionist background and founder of the Tanistry Instagram account.

What will your message be?

My message is that the eternal cycle of stagnation, disappointment, and cynicism that comes with partition across the entire island doesn’t have to be the future.

There’s no taboo surrounding supporting a United Ireland, whoever you are. No matter your background, the opportunity for change is here and I’m encouraging as many people as possible to engage with it.

Why is a united Ireland desirable?

A united Ireland presents a unique and exciting opportunity to create a progressive, positive, and forward thinking constitutional future.

An Ireland where all are welcome, where the past isn’t forgotten but no longer dominates the present. An Ireland where every part of this island is included as an equal partner in a wider nation. A chance to move toward the future together, rather than be kept at arms length from one another by what is ultimately a manufactured divide.

People mistake it for simply being a “larger Republic of Ireland”-a United Ireland represents so much more than that.

Successive opinion polls have shown there is no majority support for a united Ireland in the North. How will you persuade Northern voters that a united Ireland is in their interests?

There’s only really one thing that will ultimately win or lose a vote on the constitutional future of the island; who has the better argument.

In my view, unionism has failed time and time again to present a positive image of the union; too much of the unionist argument relies on fear mongering, sectarianism, and cynical rejection that the future might be any better than this.

There are thousands of British people living in different parts of Ireland right now. There are thousands of British people living all over the world! Your identity is what you make of it, not what someone else tells you it is.

The Ireland’s Future Event is but one of many conversations that aim to present a positive and optimistic argument for constitutional change-I think that will win people over more so than hand wringing over identity. I don’t become any more or less Irish when I nip down to Dublin or up to Donegal-the same is (and will remain to be) true for those who identify as British and live outside the United Kingdom.

Cian O’Callaghan, Social Democrats TD:

I want to see an inclusive Ireland where people with disabilities, members of the travelling community, LGBTI people are fully included. I want to see an Ireland where tackling climate change is done in a way that leaves no-one behind and where people on lower incomes are fully supported to make the transition towards retrofitting their homes and moving to more sustainable forms of transport and heating. I think the decline of FF/FG, the Civil War parties, is welcome and opens up the space for a different kind of politics. Likewise in the North I think the emergence of parties campaigning on bread and butter issues and campaigning on issues that cross the sectarian divide is very welcome and very healthy.

Sinn Féin President Mary Lou McDonald TD:

“There is a growing, vibrant conversation taking place in communities across Ireland about the opportunities that a new Ireland would bring. It is clear that Ireland has changed and is changing. It is important to plan for constitutional change and to discuss the detail of what a new Ireland will look like. Politicians burying their head in the sand helps no-one. The responsible thing is to have the conversations now about what society can look like, from our health system, to education and policing. The Irish government must establish a Citizen’s Assembly to begin preparations for a future unity referendum. It is a very welcome and positive step that these discussions are taking place at this Ireland’s Future event, as a place for diverse, respectful and inclusive dialogue. I am looking forward to hearing a broad range of views and perspectives during these discussions. The future of a new Ireland belongs to us all and everyone’s voice is important as this dialogue progresses and continues.”

Leo Varadkar: Fine Gael leader and Tánaiste (through a spokesman):

“The Tánaiste accepted an invitation to speak at the Ireland’s Future event. It is a non-party civic organisation which he has met with in the past. The Tánaiste believes it is important to discuss these issues and supports an open dialogue among all traditions and identities on the island. This should be done in a way that is respectful and does not challenge anyone’s loyalties.”

Paula Melvin, President, Conradh na Gaeilge:

We are currently running a series of seminars on the potential opportunities and challenges facing the Irish language in a United Ireland. We began this series a few years ago, and have held seminars and panel debates on several topics, including the role of the Irish language in a new constitution, Irish medium education, the Gaeltacht, Irish as a tool for reconciliation, and an all-island strategy for Irish.

This initiative came from a motion passed unanimously by delegates at our Árd-Fheis in 2018 supporting a new dialogue on the role of the Irish language in a new Ireland. As an organisation we are now mandated to look at all of these issues and see where the language fits in, what are the potential opportunities, and where are the possible challenges that constitutional change would bring?

Any move to new constitutional arrangements requires serious thought, consideration, and planning. We must consider the constitution, education, the Gaeltacht, language promotion and protection in legislation, and socio-linguistic issues impacting on communities across Ireland. We believe that the requisite discussion for those potential changes must be broad, inclusive, detailed, and comprehensive. To do so we must encourage debate and provide spaces for language communities to participate in a conversation that will undoubtedly have an impact on us all. It is incumbent on us all to put the revival of the Irish language at the core of the debate and protect the language from those who would use any future change to exclude and marginalise the language.

Irish speakers need to be involved as we need to ensure that the interest and needs of the Irish language and the Gaeltacht communities are put at the centre of the debate in a thematic and focused way. This conversation is one that must include the Irish language and Gaeltacht communities. The Irish language should not be seen as something that can be sacrificed in any discussion of a united Ireland, as a few politicians have already proposed. It should be seen as an opportunity for reconciliation, a shared heritage and a unique resource to develop and grow the country.

·Conradh na Gaeilge has been organising quite a lot around the issue of Éire nua and constitutional change here, ensuring then Irish language and Gaeltacht are identified are key issues in these discussions.

Ben Collins, author

What will your message be?

The title of my book is Irish Unity: Time to Prepare that is because I think we need to prepare and plan now in advance of a border poll to avoid the chaos of Brexit.

Why is a united Ireland desirable?

A united Ireland is desirable for many reasons. It will enable all of the island of Ireland to be part of the European Union and all of its associated benefits. It will remove the Border from the island of Ireland and no longer be the source of division which has blighted so many lives for so long.

This means we can grow our economy, address the climate crisis, provide public services and infrastructure including housing in a co-ordinated way across Ireland without impediment. Every citizen who lives across this island will benefit from that.

Successive opinion polls have showed there is no majority support for a united Ireland in the North. How will you persuade Northern voters that a united Ireland is in their interests?

Opinion polls have shown consistently since the UK’s vote to leave the EU that support for Irish unity is growing and support for remaining part of the U.K. is falling. Unionism no longer holds a majority of seats in the Assembly, Westminster seats elected from Northern Ireland or in local councils.

We need to plan now for the border poll which I think is increasingly likely at some point in the next decade. Agreeing and setting out detailed plans will help to make the case for Irish unity. We want people to avoid voting for something which doesn’t exist, as was the case with Brexit where there was no plan and no agreed destination.

The benefits of the entire island of Ireland being part of the EU will be a key factor as we know that in the event of a vote for unity What is currently Northern Ireland will be automatically re-admitted into the EU.

There are the economic, environmental and social benefits, for example guaranteed rights and safeguards through EU Membership of Irish unity. Unionism is unwilling or unable to treat all citizens equally by their refusal to support an Irish language act, equal marriage or a woman’s right to choose.

A new Ireland will embrace diversity as part of the wider European Union. In addition I think people increasingly look at the dysfunction in Westminster and do not want to be part of that. They want to stop the possibility of the U.K. government using any part of Ireland as a negotiating chip in their own difficulties with Brexit. I think when all of these issues are considered and a positive plan is set out, Northern Ireland will vote for Irish unity.