Northern Ireland news

Platform: Fine Gael TD Neale Richmond: Preparations for a border poll should begin sooner rather than later

Neale Richmond has called for an all-party Special Oireachtas Committee to explore the challenges and opportunities of such a unity referendum

Neale Richmond

Fine Gael TD Dublin-Rathdown

Brexit has changed everything when it comes to Irish unity. The conversation regarding Ireland's future has now returned to the fore of our public and political discourse. This is thanks in large part to the choice of the British Government to pursue a hard Brexit, putting in stark context the divisions that exist across these islands, inflaming once-simmered tensions and putting our hard-won peace in jeopardy.

We are now in a position where it is feasible that a border poll could be called by the British Secretary of State for Northern Ireland in the next decade. In the face of this, the Irish Government must be prepared to successfully meet the challenges of such a referendum.

We must be prepared to tell the people of Ireland exactly what is on the table when we discuss a United Ireland. What will our health service look like? Our education system? How much will it cost? From the high level issues of economics to the mundane, we need to have absolute clarity as to what the future of this island could look like.

In order to do so, I have called upon the Government to establish an all-party Special Oireachtas Committee on the challenges and opportunities of such a Referendum. Bringing together stakeholders, experts and advocates of all positions to work through these tough issues in a Parliamentary setting is a realistic way to tackle these issues.

Discussions regarding a United Ireland are becoming more widespread in homes and across communities in Ireland and as such we must be prepared to present our vision of a United Ireland, down to the nitty-gritty details, as soon as possible.

The fact is, we do not know when a border poll will be called. We do not know what metrics the British Government and Secretary of State would use to deem a poll appropriate or necessary. In the face of such uncertainty, we owe it to the people of Ireland to be preparing for the poll sooner rather than later.

Those of us who aspire to a United Ireland are prepared to put in the work to present our vision to the people of Ireland. Unity is no longer a dirty word and our desires for such unity cannot be spoken in whispers or in backdoor conversations.

This discussion is happening so it is up to the Government to take control and give the people of Ireland, North and South, the clarity they deserve.

Clearly, there is additional work to be done in terms of rebuilding relations on this island, both North-South and East-West, as well was working through the challenges of Brexit, but this cannot preclude a parallel discussion on possible Unity.

Brexit showed us what can happen when you present a rushed referendum to people with no clear outline of what the answer looks like. Take, ‘leave means leave' – even six years later I'm unsure what this actually means in practice for the UK and I'd hedge a bet that many others are too. We must learn from the lessons of Brexit, from the lessons of the Scottish independence referendum and have our vision for the future of this island clear.

Whether the referendum is called in 10, 20 or 30 years our vision must be clear. Now is the time for the Irish Government to be leaders on this subject, to take a responsible path forward and have the difficult conversations about our future. This is the least the people of Ireland deserve.

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