Northern Ireland news

Taoiseach urged to establish a Citizens Assembly to look at building support for a united Ireland

Republic of Ireland's James McClean

LEO Varadkar has been urged to establish a Citizens Assembly to look at ways of building broad support for a united Ireland.

The call comes today from civic nationalist group Ireland’s Future in an open letter to the taoiseach, signed by 1,000 leading figures from across the island and beyond.

Those endorsing the letter’s message, which is published in The Irish News, include commentator Fintan O’Toole, Boston mayor Marty Walsh, economist David McWilliams, concert promoter Peter Aiken, and businessman David Gavaghan, the former head of Stormont’s Strategic Investment Board.

It has also been signed by well-known names from the worlds of sport, entertainment, academia and media, including former Kilkenny All-Ireland-winning hurling captain DJ Carey, Republic of Ireland soccer international James McClean, and Fermanagh-born actor Adrian Dunbar.

Previous letters the group has sent to Mr Varadkar have called on the taoiseach to ensure the rights of Irish citizens in the north are maintained in the face of Brexit and the absence of devolved institutions.

Analysis: Expanding campaign strikes right note with call for Citizens Assembly to examine Irish unity

However, the latest letter, which will also appear in today's Irish Times, has a wider selection of signatures from the Republic and the diaspora than previous incarnations.

Today’s letter again stresses the need for Dublin to “ensure the democratic wishes and rights of Irish citizens are respected and protected, regardless of where they live on the island”.

But it is coupled with a much more direct appeal to the Fine Gael government to “start planning now” for a united Ireland.

“Let’s have a discussion on how this can be achieved,” the letter states. “We would urge you to start this process based on the vision of democratic change set out in the Good Friday Agreement.”

Belfast lawyer and Ireland’s Future co-ordinator Niall Murphy said: “We need to plan for the future and the inevitabilities of demographic change and economic imperatives.

“We can’t replicate the ill prepared recklessness of the Brexit referendum. We need to consult, converse, plan, and prepare for Ireland’s future.”

In January his year, thousands gathered at the Ireland’s Future Beyond Brexit conference at Belfast’s Waterfront Hall.

Attended by representatives from Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, alongside the Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald and her SDLP counterpart Colum Eastwood, the event is seen as a watershed moment for a reinvigorated modern nationalism, a cause spurred by the UK’s departure from the EU.

“Brexit has changed everything,” the letter to the taoiseach says.

“The constitutional, political, social and economic status quo on the island of Ireland is now in flux. Discussion about the reunification of Ireland has moved centre stage.”

The letter describes as a “welcome development”, discussions about a united Ireland that include debates around “the place of unionists in it”.

“We ask the Government to establish a Citizens Assembly reflecting the views of citizens North and South, or a Forum to discuss the future and achieve maximum consensus on a way forward.”

Other signatories include Cork hurling coach Diarmuid O’Sullivan, actor Ciarán McMenamin, author Carlo Gébler, singer Christy Moore and film director Jim Sheridan.

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