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Down Gaels back calls for 'conversation' on united Ireland

Ross Carr is spearheading Down Gaels who want the Irish Government to established a Citizens Assembly post-Brexit

DOWN Gaels have backed calls for the Irish government to establish an all-Island citizens assembly and to start preparing for a united Ireland.

Following an initiative started by Antrim Gaels and spearheaded by GAA figures Paddy Cunningham and Jane Adams back in May, an open letter to the taoiseach urging action has now gained the support of several thousand people from the GAA community across the nine counties of Ulster.

Gaels in every county in the province have embraced calls for discussions to begin in earnest and for the Irish government to “take the lead” in mapping out a way forward for the nation in these post-‘Brexit’ times.

Down’s double All-Ireland winner Ross Carr is taking a lead role in his native county and has been overwhelmed by the amount of support the open letter to the taoiseach has gathered in such a short space of time.

The letter, which was published in The Irish News on May 8, stated: "It is the responsibility of the Irish government to ensure that the democratic rights of all citizens are respected and protected, regardless of where they live on the island…” adding that it was the responsibility of the southern administration to “achieve maximum consensus on a way forward".

The taoiseach and the Irish government have yet to acknowledge the letter that was sent in May.

Carr said: “There was obviously an initiative that began in Antrim where the feeling was, due to the recent climate, now was the right time, that there has never been a better time to have a discussion about the possibility of a united Ireland.

“As a result of that and the success of that roll-out [in Antrim], I was asked would I be interested in testing the water for the same roll-out in Down amongst ordinary GAA people. It wasn’t to be a who’s who of Down, which was important, it was every Gael.

“I wasn’t contacting people on behalf of any political party. I asked people from all walks of life – doctors, barristers, former players, administrators, ordinary supporters – and it was incredible the amount of support for this initiative.”

Alongside Carr, former Mourne team-mates DJ Kane and Conor Deegan are among those who have signed the letter as has Dara Hayes – son of the late Maurice Hayes – solicitor Kevin Winters and Moira Hawkins, secretary of Down Ladies football.

It is estimated the signatories in Down have topped 1,500 and continues to grow.

“We just feel as a collective that ‘Brexit’ has hastened the opportunity for discussion,” Carr explained.

“Beforehand it was always a [strictly] political discussion. Now, it’s always going to be hard to convince those from a non-nationalist background that it’s still not a political one but we’ve got to raise issues about the economy, health, education, housing.

“What does a united Ireland mean to me on a Friday evening when I pick my wages up or when I go to book an appointment with a dentist or a doctor or when I make an application for a house, or when my child is sick? Who do I go and see?

“Are the hospitals closing? I want better than what I have now. If what we have now isn’t good enough, and it’s going to get worse before it gets better, then let’s talk about the alternatives and then make a decision on our future.”

Carr cited the recent formation of East Belfast GAC - a club situated in a unionist area of the city that has attracted significant numbers from non-nationalist backgrounds - as one of the Association's "greatest achievements" and its consummate ability to reach out to those who have never played Gaelic Games before.

“In getting involved with this open letter to the Taoiseach, it was important to me that everybody would have a say.

"The nationalist community in the north suffered horrifically since partition. We were treated on many occasions as second-class citizens so from where I stood it was important that if there was going to be a United Ireland those who were against it or were from different backgrounds would not be subjected to the same injustices that nationalists were. You don’t want the abused to become the abuser."

  •  This article was amended on September 17

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