Northern Ireland news

Unionist elected to Seanad urges north's politicians to lead by example

Senator Ian Marshall with Sinn Fén's Mary Lou McDonald, Michelle O'Neill, Deirdre Hargey and party chairperson Declan Kearney at the launch of Sinn Féin's anti sectarianism policy. Picture by Hugh Russell 
Michael McHugh, Press Association

The first Ulster Unionist elected to the Irish Seanad has urged politicians in Northern Ireland to lead by example and choose their words carefully.

Ian Marshall, a former head of the Ulster Farmers' Union (UFU) and the taoiseach's nomination for the Republic's upper house, said the silent majority wanted change.

He addressed a Sinn Féin event centred on combating sectarianism.

"It's about building trust and taking small steps.

"Forty years of violence left its mark, a culture of weaponising symbols and emblems, cultures and traditions has no place today.

"Inflaming situations by playing to your audience has no place today.

"We need politicians, community leaders, church leaders and individuals to choose words carefully and lead by example.

"To send out the message to their groups and followers that working together is a demonstration of strength and not weakness and that it's not disrespectful to your culture to embrace others."

Mr Marshall enjoyed Sinn Féin's support in his bid for the Seanad seat.

He owns a farm near Markethill, County Armagh, and has opposed Brexit.

"I hate to have to keep reiterating this but the silent majority want change and the young will demand change and we all will have failed if we don't take this opportunity to act."

He said the vast majority of citizens in Northern Ireland are completely appalled at any notion that sectarianism should or could be tolerated in society.

He added: "No-one is immune to, and no-one has a monopoly on sectarianism.

"But it has moved on and the dark days of polarisation are thankfully a distant memory in many communities."

Mr Marshall addressed an event at a centre in Ardoyne, scene of serious inter-communal violence in recent years.

It was organised by Fr Gary Donegan, a Catholic priest who has been a constant voice for peace in the area.

Mr Marshall added: "We can never ask those whose lives have been torn apart to 'forgive and forget' and many people will never recover from the damage inflicted on themselves or other friends and family members.

"But we need to separate the horrors of what went before from what we have now."

He said breaking down the barriers meant building bridges where individuals and communities will need to reach out and go that bit further.

"It's been demonstrated already as lately as yesterday with Arlene Foster travelling to Clones to watch the Ulster Final between Donegal and Fermanagh and two weeks ago with the taoiseach visiting Belfast to open a fleadh and then a visit to the Orange order.

"Admittedly small beginnings yet important demonstrations that the time is now right to build a shared society.

"But these shouldn't be special events. These should be normal activities and any notion of criticism or dismissal of the significance of these actions must be condemned."

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