Northern Ireland news

'Generational shift' puts Fine Gael on front foot in Irish unity campaign

Fine Gael TD Neale Richmond

FINE Gael TD Neale Richmond has said a "generational shift" in his party has now made it much more amenable to campaigning for Irish unity.

The Dublin Rathdown TD was part of an Ireland's Future panel discussion at Westminster earlier this week where he called for the establishment of an Oireachtas committee on constitutional change.

Over recent decades, Fine Gael has been regarded among the Republic's main parties as the most sympathetic to unionism – and resistant to Irish unity.

The party's former leader John Bruton, who was taoiseach from 1994 to 1997, has previously criticised Sinn Féin's calls for a border poll, describing them as "toxic" and "highly reckless".

However, in recent years the Fine Gael leadership has shown a increased willingness to embrace the concept of Irish unity.

Party leader Leo Varadkar and his deputy leader Simon Coveney have both publicly voiced a desire to see a united Ireland in their lifetimes, while earlier this week the tánaiste said there was a need for greater clarity on the criteria for a border poll.

Speaking to The Irish News, Mr Richmond conceded that in the past Fine Gael has been characterised as "shying away from the unity debate".

However, he said changing circumstances, coupled with the UK's 2016 vote to leave the European Union, had transformed opinion in his party.

“I think there wasn't a huge desire to talk about unity through the 1970s 80s and 90s – among any parties in the south to be honest – but I fundamentally believe Brexit has massively changed that, and now it's as much about responsibility as desire," he said.

The 39-year-old member of the Church of Ireland argues for Irish unity on the basis that the whole island will rejoin the EU and also because it would represent a “consolidation” of resources.

“Unity it's no longer just an emotional aspiration bandied about and left to one party to keep pushing, it's now something that's coming into discussions a lot more across the island, and I certainly think has been an element of a generational shift,” he said.

“That’s especially true within my own party where political colleagues who maybe came up through the political system in the 80s and 90s, would have a very different outlook when it comes to dealing with north-south issues, than perhaps my own generation, and that of our leader and deputy leader.”

Mr Richmond believes there will a border poll “within the decade” and he urged unionists to engage in discussions on potential constitutional change.

“Gregory Campbell once said that we just don't get it – well, if we don't talk to each other, how can we get their concerns, their fears?” he said.

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