Northern Ireland news

Naomi Long ready to engage with any conversation about Irish unity

Naomi Long said it would be 'letting down the people we represent' if her party did not take part in any discussions about a potential united Ireland. Picture by Mark Marlow

NAOMI Long has said she will engage with any forum examining Irish unity and argues that unionism needs to be "part of those conversations" too.

The Alliance leader said it would be "letting down the people we represent" if she and her party did not take part in any discussions about a potential united Ireland.

It is argued that Sinn Féin's recent electoral surge in the Republic increases the likelihood of a Citizens' Assembly being established to look at Irish unity.

Civic nationalist group Ireland's Future urged the last southern government to establish the forum, while Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald made a similar call at her party's ard fheis last November.

A Citizens' Assembly in the south has previously examined legalising same-sex marriage and liberalising abortion ahead of respective referendums which led to significant changes in legislation, but both main unionist parties have ruled out taking part.

Former DUP MP Nigel Dodds had initially indicated that his party was open to contributing to any forum that was established to consider reunification. However, days later Arlene Foster said his response had been based on a "misunderstanding".

Read More: Arlene Foster believes no united Ireland in her lifetime

Ulster Unionist leader Steve Aiken also ruled out any engagement with a Citizens' Assembly.

Speaking ahead of her party's conference tomorrow, the Alliance leader told The Irish News it was "crucial" to discuss future constitutional scenarios.

"It's really important that we engage in any conversations taking place because they are about the future of the people we represent and to ignore those conversations would be letting down those people," she said.

Read More: Lee Child says united Ireland 'hundreds of years overdue'

She also urged her unionist counterparts not to dismiss the prospect of joining discussions about the potential for Irish unity.

"Unionism needs to part of those conversations because they will still take palace whether or not they engage," she said.

"Even if their contribution is based on rejecting a united Ireland it's still important that unionists take part."

Meanwhile, Mrs Long said she has "no regrets" about joining the executive because she believes it's what people wanted.

The Alliance leader said the New Decade, New Approach deal that secured the restoration of devolution was "not perfect" but it created an opportunity to tackle the problems that had beset previous administrations.

"It provides a basis for which all the parties can come together and address the breakdown in relations and dysfunction at the heart of our politics," she said.

"I'm not suggesting it'll be all plain sailing and for all of us there is a degree of cynicism but there is positive engagement around the executive table and I detect a determination to make this work."

The East Belfast MLA said she advocated greater openness from the executive but cautioned that ministers should be able to "kick around ideas" and develop policy without fear that their private comments would be publicised.

She said she supported regular engagement with the media "on a more routine footing".

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