Northern Ireland

Opposing sides in constitutional debate to hold showpiece events on same night in November

Together UK's Sheila Davidson
Together UK's Sheila Davidson

OPPOSING sides of the debate on constitutional change are set to hold showpiece events on the same night next month.

In what one board member of Together UK has described as an "interesting coincidence", the fledgling pro-union group will launch in London on November 23 – the same date supporters of Ireland's Future gather in Belfast.

The venue for London launch of Together UK, which held a similar event in Belfast last month attended by former Tory minister Richard Needham, has not yet been confirmed. However, it will take place as nationalists hold a corresponding event at the Ulster Hall, a venue which has in recent years played host to an anti-protocol pageant and once held Ulster Resistance rallies and anti-Home Rule demonstrations.

Loyalists have warned that they may protest at the Ireland's Future event.

Belfast PR consultant Sheila Davidson, who founded Together UK along with former DUP leader Arlene Foster and a number of business people in Britain, told The Irish News that the group was a "broad church" that would be promoting the advantages of the union across the UK, rather than solely in the north.

A Catholic from north Belfast who attended Our Lady of Mercy Girls' School in Ballysillan, Ms Davidson was due to stand as a candidate for Ulster Conservatives and Unionists - New Force (Ucunf) in the 2010 general election but withdrew her nomination in protest at a potential deal between the Ulster Unionists and DUP.

She said the new group did not want to "evangelise" but would be seeking to ensure there was an "informed debate" about the potential for constitutional change, whether in Northern Ireland, Scotland or Wales.

"We have no affiliation to any political party and our message is about aspects of everyday life, like pensions and the NHS," she said.

"It is about informing everybody and not just about a border poll in Northern Ireland – the UK cannot be taken for granted."

An advocate of the UK remaining in the EU, Ms Davidson said Brexit had reinvigorated the debate around a border poll.

"We need an informed debate because we went into a Brexit that meant all sorts of things to different people and look how that ended up," she said.

Ireland's Future CEO Gerry Carlile said: "It's important that the pro-UK voice gets organised because we are on a trajectory towards a referendum on Irish unity.

"The onus is on organisations like Ireland’s Future to continue to provide platforms for discussion on the best way forward but we are very clear, that in our view, Irish unity will present all of the people of Ireland and future generations with better opportunities in the years ahead," he said.