A United Ireland is a New Ireland
Ireland is in transition. A lot of previous certainties are gone. The tide of history is with those who seek to build a progressive and inclusive future. Unquestionably Irish Unity is part of that progressive and inclusive future. A United Ireland will be a stronger, better and fairer country.
The conditions for the holding a referendum on Irish reunification have grown dramatically. The conversation on Irish Unity is happening in households, in workplaces, in the business sector, in academia and in communities North and South.
The Irish Government has an obligation to plan for Irish Unity. It has a duty and an obligation to put in place the structures that will allow people to debate and discuss it in a way that is inclusive of all views and ideas what a United Ireland could look like. It is now time to establish an all-Ireland Citizens Assembly to discuss and plan for Irish Unity.
Only in this way can we ensure that all perspectives are part of this discussion and that all views are heard and understood. And that of course includes those whose identity is British and whose identity must rightly be protected in a United Ireland.
Failure to plan for change is unsettling and daunting, especially for those who are unconvinced by the case for unity. This includes those from a Unionist background and those whose identity is British. The best way to underpin the peace, to generate peaceful transition, to achieve peaceful change is to plan ,to include, to engage. We owe it to all our people to start this process and this engagement.
Calls to cast aside the principle of a simple majority deciding the result of a unity referendum fail to see the bigger picture. It is a call to cast aside the democratic norm of every vote being equal. It is a principle enshrined in the Good Friday Agreement and it is the established basis by which citizens have decided on important issues such as divorce, marriage equality and the Eighth Amendment. We have to trust in the will and the wisdom of the people. I believe that most people will accept a majority if it comes on the back of a truly inclusive, respectful and evidence-based debate.
Brexit, the Covid pandemic, changed demographic and political realities, the prospect of Scottish Independence have all, in their own way, highlighted the need for new constitutional arrangements better suited to the realities of Ireland today. In the last year in particular we have seen how partition does not work and that it is not in the interests of the people of Ireland, North or South. We know that the only realistic way to realise the wishes of people in the North to be part of the EU, is through the reunification of Ireland.
As a post-pandemic world faces into new economic challenges, it is clear that an island nation, with 6.4 million inhabitants, on the edge of Europe can no longer sustain two separate tax regimes, legal systems, competing economic development programmes, and back-to-back health and education systems.
An integrated Irish economy and state is urgently required for the development of public services, investment, exports, agriculture, policing and justice as well as in terms of inclusion and diversity. It also allows us to build an all-island National Health Service. People in the North value the NHS but they also know that the Tories are in the process of dismantling it. For those who believe in and value the public provision of healthcare, the future is a National Health Service for Ireland.
We need to look at Irish Unity as an unprecedented opportunity for all the people of Ireland, and most particular for the generation of young people who have been so badly impacted by the Covid 19 pandemic. We need to work with others, including our partners in the European Union to deliver on the potential of reunification. We should look to the support which the European Union provided to Germany at the time of its reunification as an example of the role which it can play in the process of Irish reunification.
We have entered a defining period in the history of this island.
A United Ireland is not about grafting the North onto the South. It is about creating new political structures built on diversity – an equal society not just between orange and green, but between urban and rural, old and young, men and women, LGBT and straight, old and new Irish, black and white. An Ireland, to paraphrase Thomas Davis, which will “embrace Protestant, Catholic and Dissenter – Milesian and Cromwellian – the Irishman of a hundred generations, and the stranger who is within our gates”.
I welcome the constructive comments made by the Tánaiste Leo Varadkar when we discussed Irish Unity recently on RTE’s Claire Byrne Live show as I do the contribution of other politicians including Fianna Fáil TD Jim O’Callaghan and Fine Gael TD Neale Richmond who have both brought forward their thoughts on Irish Unity. We will have to work together, regardless of our political persuasion, as we embark on this process towards Irish Unity.
The future of Irish people - unionist and nationalists, North and South, are bound together.
Let's come together to design an Ireland that is accommodating to all our people in all their diversity.