‘Good neighbourliness’ needed in Irish unity discussions, says Mary McAleese

Former Irish President Mary McAleese.
Former Irish President Mary McAleese.

Former President of Ireland Mary McAleese has said “it’s undeniable” that demographics are shifting towards a united Ireland.

Ms McAleese also said communities across the island of Ireland should foster “good neighbourliness”.

The former President was speaking on the Late Late Show, hosted for the first time on Friday evening by Patrick Kielty.

Over the past two weeks, British and Irish government representatives have been continuing to express tension over commentary on Irish unity.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar stated his belief he would see a united Ireland in his lifetime and the possibility of exploring “plan B” if Stormont was not restored, comments the Northern Ireland secretary Chris Heaton-Harris described as “unhelpful”.

On Friday Mr Varadkar criticised the “double standards” applied to Irish and UK ministers when they talk about the constitutional future of Ireland.

Asked by Kielty for her take on a possible united Ireland, Ms McAleese said she’d “love to see it”.

“But my view of it is very simple. You know, what we’ve been through in Northern Ireland, we got to the Good Friday Agreement. The Good Friday Agreement has a plan in place,” she said.

“If the day ever dawns, when there is a majority that might be in favour of a united Ireland, there is a plan for a referendum and it’ll be in the hands of those people.

“I don’t know when that’s going to be, I have no idea. I’m just happy that the plan is there. Because I’m hoping that by the time it gets there, and certainly the demographics are moving in that direction. It’s undeniable.”

DCU Brexit institute event
Handout photo issued by Fennell Photography of Former President of Ireland Mary McAleese.

Ms McAleese also stated that the prospect of returning to the EU was a further draw towards unity.

“Brexit has really not helped the case for the long-term place for the Union in the sense that, first of all, it’s been a disaster. But second of all, there are many, many people in Northern Ireland of all stripes, who would prefer to be in the European Union,” she said.

“And that’s the one thing that united Ireland would give to those people would be the chance to come back into the European Union.”

Despite the growing calls for unity, Ms McAleese said she did not know if a referendum would take place in her lifetime.

“There actually was a moment of, when you could sort of feel the good neighbourliness growing. And I think that’s what we have to concentrate on, let’s get the good neighbourliness thing going, which is pretty difficult at the moment with the politics the way they are, but keep it going,” she said.

“Because when the day dawns, if the day dawns that there’s going to be a referendum, you want it to happen in as quiet a mode as humanly possible.

“I don’t know when that’ll be, I mean, I’m probably near enough twice Leo Varadkar’s age so I’m not getting any younger.”

Good Friday Agreement 25th Anniversary
Former Irish president Mary McAleese (left). Picture date: Monday April 17, 2023.

Ms McAleese said a focus on “good neighbourliness” would help to tackle difficult political issues and referred to people killed during the Troubles.

Host Kielty’s father Jack Kielty was shot by members of the UFF in 1988 after refusing to pay protection money.

Ms McAleese said: “I just think that we concentrate on the relationships, we get those right and if we have those right, and we have political stability and we have good neighbourliness, we’d be able to tackle a lot of things that were very difficult in the longer term.

“I don’t know when that’s going to be, I don’t know, but I’m happy to leave it to the terms of the Good Friday Agreement. It was hard fought for. A lot of people, including your daddy, died for it. So do you know what, to respect those people? Let’s just leave it to them.”