Belfast Brexit event described as 'most important constitutional gathering in a generation'

Fine Gael education and skills minister Joe McHugh will speak at the 'Beyond Brexit – the Future of Ireland' event

AN event later this month looking at the impact of Brexit on northern nationalists has been described as the "most important constitutional gathering in a generation".

Up to 1,500 people are expected to attend 'Beyond Brexit – the Future of Ireland' at Belfast's Waterfront Hall on Saturday January 26.

It has been organised by a group previously behind an open letter to the taoiseach signed by more than 1,000 figures from civic nationalism.

Fine Gael education and skills minister Joe McHugh, Sinn Féin president Mary Lou McDonald and SDLP leader Colum Eastwood will be joined by Fianna Fáil deputy leader Dara Calleary to discuss the consequences of Brexit for Irish citizens in the north.

The event will also feature two separate panel discussions, the first of which will focus on how the UK's withdrawal from the EU will impact on the Good Friday Agreement and the economy, while the second will look at future entitlements for nationalists, including presidential voting rights, a unity referendum and constitutional guarantees.

Those taking part in the panel discussions include Irish News columnist Brian Feeney, Queen's academic Colin Harvey, singer Frances Black, and obstetrician Jim Dornan, father of actor Jamie Dornan.

More than 500 people have already registered to attend the free event.

It comes as civic nationalism intensifies its campaign to ensure EU rights are protected after Brexit.

Last November, acclaimed actors, leading businesspeople and top sportsmen were among the hundreds of signatories of an open letter to Leo Varadkar outlining their concerns.

Those putting their names to the letter, which welcomed the Fine Gael leader's previous commitment to represent the interests of northern nationalists, included actors Adrian Dunbar and Ciaran McMenamin, international footballer James McClean and film director Jim Sheridan.

The taoiseach responded by insisting the interests of Irish citizens north of the border are a "priority" in the Brexit negotiations.

Niall Murphy, a Belfast lawyer involved in organising the Waterfront Hall event, said it would provide an a platform for "the conveyance of reasoned and considered political perspectives".

"This will be a comprehensive discussion of the economic and political implications of whatever comes to pass on Monday January 21 – the date we regard as the legal guillotine for Brexit," he said.

"There is grave concern around the discontinuance of the enjoyment of rights, the magnitude of which has not yet been fully clarified."

Mr Murphy said he was delighted a representative of the Dublin government and other leading political figures from across the island had accepted the invitation to speak at the event, which he said was already generating "huge interest".

"We regard this as the most important constitutional gathering in a generation," he said.

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