Northern Ireland news

3,000 Antrim Gaels sign open letter calling on Irish government to start planning for 'agreed shared Ireland'

Jane Adams and Paddy Cunningham have spearheaded the campaign. Picture by Hugh Russell
Suzanne McGonagle and Brendan Crossan

A group of Antrim Gaels have written an open letter to Taoiseach Micheál Martin calling on the Irish government to "take the lead" in plans for an "agreed shared Ireland".

Former hurling All Star Terence McNaughton and ex-footballer and MND campaigner Anto Finnegan are among more than 3,000 players and supporters of Antrim GAA who have signed the letter.

Published in today's Irish News, it calls for the establishment of an All-Island Citizens Assembly "reflecting the views of citizens north and south to achieve maximum consensus on a way forward".

"It is the responsibility of the Irish government to ensure that the democratic rights of all citizens are respected and protected, regardless of where they live on the island," it states.

The campaign has been spearheaded by former Antrim senior footballer Paddy Cunningham and All-Ireland winner and former camogie All Star Jane Adams.

In an interview, Ms Adams said the Irish government "needs to take a lead role in this, it is their responsibility to begin the planning for a border poll and constitutional change".

The initiative has been backed by many of the county's footballers, hurlers, camogs and ladies footballers, including Conor McCann and Áine Tubridy as well as solicitor Niall Murphy.

In the letter, the group states they are writing "as Gaels who are involved in Gaelic games in Co Antrim".

"As Irish citizens, we believe that the future prosperity and well-being of all citizens on our island will be best upheld living in equality together in an agreed shared Ireland.

"Conversations are taking place across society regarding what shape our island will take in the coming period. They are also happening at every level amongst the GAA community.

"We want the Irish government to take the lead in planning these discussions and planning for the future.

"We are asking the government to establish an All Island Citizens Assembly reflecting the views of citizens north and south to achieve maximum consensus on a way forward."

The group say "gaels are uniquely well-placed at the very heart of local communities to contribute constructively to the conversation on the future of this island".

"We want to encourage citizens from all traditions to be part of this discussion.

"It is the responsibility of the Irish government to ensure that the democratic rights of all citizens are respected and protected, regardless of where they live on the island.

"This is important at all times. But it is especially so now, in the wake of Brexit.

"We urge you to start this process, based on the vision of democratic change set out in the Good Friday Agreement.

"The planning needs to start now. We are committed to playing our part."

Ms Adams said the campaign "came out of conversations that we both had and once we started to talk to other Gaels, we realised those same conversations were already taking place through the communities of Antrim".

Mr Cunningham said they hope the letter is "a starting point to encourage and develop meaningful debate amongst Gaels and to encourage the Irish government to plan for constitutional change".

An Antrim GAA spokesman said: "The Antrim County Board will read the letter, signed by Antrim Gaels, upon publication and discuss the development at our next meeting."

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