Northern Ireland news

Leo Varadkar not ruling out Citizens Assembly on Irish unity but cautions over 'sensitive time'

Leo Varadkar has not ruled out establishing a Citizens' Assembly to look at Irish unity

THE taoiseach has said he will not rule out establishing a Citizens' Assembly to look at Irish unity but cautioned that current circumstances mean it is a very "sensitive time" in Ireland – north and south.

Speaking in the Dáil, Leo Varadkar questioned whether unionists would take part in such a forum.

He said there are around a million unionists and if they were not involved in the initiative it would fundamentally change its nature.

The latest call for a Citizens Assembly to examine Irish unity came earlier this month from civic nationalist group Ireland’s Future.

It came in an open letter to the taoiseach published in The Irish News, which was signed by 1,000 leading figures from across the island and beyond, including commentator Fintan O’Toole, Boston mayor Marty Walsh and economist David McWilliams.

A similar call came from Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald at her party's recent ard fheis in Derry.

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“We should not forget what the Good Friday Agreement is all about – it’s about acknowledging that Northern Ireland has a unique history and geography, and therefore, has special arrangements regarding power-sharing in Northern Ireland,” Mr Varadkar said.

“When it comes to issue of a Citizens’ Assembly, as I said before it’s certainly not something that I rule out and it is something that I will give consideration to at the right point in time.”

The taoiseach said the current impasse at Stormont, Brexit and the forthcoming Westminster election meant it was not the right time to establish a Citizens’ Assembly.

However, he said in two or three months’ time the situation may be different.

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“We might find ourselves in a more stable situation and in a better political environments to progress these kinds of ideas.”

The Fine Gael leader said if unionists declined to participate the outcome would be skewed.

“A million of them, making up half the population in Northern Ireland on a very significant minority on this island,” he said.

“Would British citizens living in Northern Ireland participate in the Citizens’ Assembly? And if they would not, that would fundamentally change the nature of that Citizens’ Assembly, because it would seek to discuss the constitutional future of this island.” he said.

He said in the absence of unionists the forum would become a “pan-nationalist” assembly, rather than one representing citizens across the island.

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