Niall Murphy: Beyond Brexit - The Future of Ireland
WHEN over 200 Irish citizens from the north signed an open letter to An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar in December 2017 it came at the end of a tumultuous and politically defining year.
That January, the Good Friday Agreement political institutions collapsed amidst the political and financial scandal of RHI.
It served to confirm the growing view of northern nationalists that political unionism was not committed to proper power sharing.
The disrespect for the Irish national identity and repeated mockery of the Irish language by DUP elected representatives, the punitive scrapping of the Liofa bursary scheme by a DUP minister, and then insults from that party's leader during the March assembly election mobilised the nationalist and republican electorate: in turn the unionist political majority in the assembly was ended.
Increased unionist belligerence continued, and then, the nationalist constituency sent a stark message during the subsequent Westminster election, that it was turning its back on Westminster.
Of course, the political process in the north had already been seriously destabilised due to the result of the EU Referendum in 2016, when a majority of people in the north voted to remain in the EU.
The British government ignored that democratic result and the emerging negative implications of Brexit became major talking points.
The potential reinforcement of partition, the erosion of citizen's rights, the undermining of the Good Friday Agreement, and the denial of the democratic wish of the north to remain in the EU, all became mainstreamed as profound concerns in daily conversation.
This culmination of events and concerns motivated me and others to make the first direct public appeal to Leo Varadkar to stand up and speak out in defence of Irish citizens' rights in the north.
We were not surprised to discover that many from across all sectors in society had no hesitation in adding their names to this initiative. Indeed, in the aftermath of the publication of the letter the only complaint received was from people annoyed that they weren't asked.
We felt it was essential that Irish citizens in the north heard reassurance from the Irish government that the reality of abandonment experienced by our parents and grandparents would not be visited upon our generation.
An Taoiseach pronounced that northern nationalists "will never again be left behind by an Irish government". And yet despite a series of meetings with both An Taoiseach and Tanaiste, Simon Coveney, and further statements from both, the deep discontent which we helped to highlight throughout 2017 has remained intact.
As a result of the increased political disarray at Westminster, the in fighting within the British Conservative Party and British government, and the destructive influence of the DUP on both; coupled with the continuing politicial crisis and denial of rights and democracy in the north, our civic initiative decided to write to An Taoiseach again.
This time, in November 2018, over 1,000 citizens endorsed another direct appeal to An Taoiseach and his government to act in defence of the Good Friday Agreement and citizens' rights.
Most significantly, between December 2017 and November 2018, the nationalist discontent to which we gave popular expression has not only grown, in fact a seismic shift has occurred within wider nationalist opinion.
Having turned its back on Westminster in June 2017, nationalism is now looking beyond the parameters of what was the northern state.
Brexit has changed everything. Old certainties have gone.
Conversations about the future, and future constitutional change, are happening in unexpected places.
Citizens who once looked to Westminster are now considering new scenarios. New arrangements and new relationships are being considered.Ireland has changed dramatically over the course of the past twenty years. The north has been left behind. British government policy has turned it into a political and economic back water.
The veto of the DUP and others in political unionism has blocked the development of a shared, secular society based on rights, civil liberties and anti-sectarianism.
It is within this context that the Beyond Brexit – the Future of Ireland conference has been organised.
We seek to provide a space for a discussion to begin. It has to begin somewhere.We believe this is the right time to have a conversation about the future. Failure to encourage and embrace that potential would be reckless and irresponsible.
Our children and new generations deserve a better future better than our past.
So come along and have your say this Saturday. Play your part in helping shape the future of our country.
Register at https://www.eventbrite.ie/e/beyond-brexit-registration-49981301418. The event will commence sharp at 11am, with registration desks open from 10am.
:: Niall Murphy is an organiser of Beyond Brexit – the Future of Ireland conference.