Northern Ireland

SNP president Michael Russell to deliver the keynote address at Ireland's Future Ulster Hall event

Scottish National Party president Michael Russell
Scottish National Party president Michael Russell

SCOTTISH National Party president Michael Russell will deliver the keynote address at next week's Ireland's Future event in Belfast's Ulster Hall.

The former MSP, who latterly served in the Scottish government as cabinet secretary for the constitution, Europe and external affairs, will be joined by a range of speakers, discussing a variety of issues pertinent to the growing debate around Irish unity.

Ireland's Future – Belongs to You, which takes place on November 23, is already sold out and comes just over seven weeks after up to 5,000 people attended the landmark Together We Can event at Dublin's 3Arena.

According to Ireland's Future CEO Gerry Carlile, the Ulster Hall gathering will "mark the end of our island wide series of public engagements".

"Over the past 14 months Ireland’s Future has organised meetings in places like Cork, Galway, Kilkenny, Armagh, Letterkenny, Sligo and Derry," he told The Irish News.

"Over 100,000 people have attended or watched our meetings and events online."

Mr Carlile said last month's event in Dublin "laid down a marker as to how far the new Ireland conversation has travelled since 2019".

"The Ulster Hall will be another momentous occasion – we particularly look forward to listening to those who didn’t grow up with a pro-new Ireland outlook but who are evolving to that position," he said.

"Other contributors will cover areas in relation to healthcare, jobs, prosperity, police, education and prospects for our young people."

The Ireland's Future CEO said he was "delighted" to be welcoming Mr Russell, describing the SNP president as a "fantastic advocate for Scottish independence".

Alongside entertainment and addresses from, among others, Irish News' columnists Brian Feeney, Chris Donnelly and Patricia MacBride, next Wednesday's line-up will include a discussion chaired by Martina Devlin involving a panel largely made up of those from what is deemed to be a cultural unionist background.

Those taking part include businessman Glenn Bradley, former Impartial Reporter editor Denzil McDaniel and authors Claire Mitchell and Ben Collins.

Ireland's Future launched in January 2019 with its Beyond Brexit event at Belfast's Waterfront Hall.

Little over a year earlier, in the aftermath of the UK's vote to leave the EU, more than 200 nationalists, including influential figures from the fields of law, education, business, sport and academia appealed to the then Taoiseach Leo Varadkar not to leave Irish citizens in the north "out in the cold".

Those that signed the open letter, published in The Irish News, included former Tyrone GAA captain Peter Canavan and Republic of Ireland international James McClean.

In November 2018, more than 1,000 people, including actors Adrian Dunbar and Ciaran McMenamin, signed a similar letter welcoming the Fine Gael leader's commitment to represent the interests of northern nationalists at the Brexit negotiations but it noted how all citizens north of the border are denied rights which are "taken for granted by citizens in other parts of these islands".