The conversation about Ireland’s future must be an honest and inclusive one - The Irish News view

Sinn Fein president Mary Lou McDonald, past president Gerry Adams, Loyalist Davy Adams and DUP founder Wallace Thompson at the Irelands Future event at the SSE Areana in Belfast. PICTURE: MAL MCCANN

PROMINENT American politician and entrepreneur, Malcolm Forbes, once said “the art of conversation lies in listening”.

It’s a maxim he would no doubt repeat with the constitutional question again being discussed and debated as a result of the latest Ireland’s Future gathering at the weekend.

Saturday’s event was brimming with opinions and viewpoints but some of the commentary has been to present the gathering as some form of echo chamber with very little in the way of alternative views allowed to be expressed.

That was not the case. On a number of occasions speakers were given the space to progress alternative views and, in a few cases, be openly critical of the organisers.

With such disagreement, we should be encouraged by such disputation for it is only through open, honest and frank conversations such as those at the weekend that we can start to move forward in a constructive manner.

The contributions of Leo Varadkar and Jarlath Burns made headlines and rightly so. Mr Varadkar was, until April, running the country and is clearly open to taking a leading role in progressing the planning and advocation for unification. His inside knowledge of the machinations of Dublin governmental operations mean he is possibly uniquely placed to identify the opportunities and route to change.

All nationalists who listened to him advocating for his successor to “start setting aside some of the surplus to prepare for that transition period” will be encouraged by his words.

Responding to Saturday’s event, the DUP’s Gregory Campbell said: “Northern Ireland has many pressing challenges but the need for a divisive border poll is most definitely not one of them.

“Schools, childcare, hospitals, GPs and infrastructure all matter.”

Well, that’s the whole point.

As we heard on Saturday, cancer doesn’t recognise borders. And would an all-island approach to education or infrastructure be a solution to the crippling chaos we’ve seen over the past few years?

The opinions of Dr Tom Black, Dr Adam Posen, disability campaigner Joanne Sansome and many others who spoke on Saturday should be heard on these matters.

New language and new understanding will be at the core of the conversation as it progresses.

Mr Campbell went on to say “the beauty of this place we call home, is that we can be British, Irish, Northern Irish and somewhere in between”.

He’s right about that but he needs to also allow himself to see that would need to be a requirement of any new Ireland as well.

Debate and reconciliation are two things we should be looking to incubate for they will blossom into an environment in which all sides feel not only that they can espouse their honestly-held views but, crucially, listen to the counter-argument.