Sinn Féin National Party Chairperson Declan Kearney writing in his weekly Blog for An Phoblacht has reminded everyone that the Good Friday Agreement – 24 years old this month – provides for democratic constitutional change. A united Ireland he believes will come about through a “process of incremental, phased transition”. This emphasises the importance of a national Citizens’ Assembly.
Declan Kearney said: “Reunification will be brought about through a process of incremental, phased transition. That is why the proposal to convene a national Citizens’ Assembly on the future of the island as a first step makes so much sense.
“Properly structured, it would provide a representative forum for diverse political and civic opinion to conduct a conversation about the future of Ireland – to think out aloud; imagine; brainstorm; to challenge; and reflect on the scope of future change without any pre determination.
“Thereafter a formal debate will inevitably be integrated to the conduct of a unity referendum. But beforehand the question which needs to be put in the referendum will have to be formulated. That in itself will require thoughtful consideration.
“The experience of Brexit has taught us all how not to stage a referendum debate.
“The referendum debate on Irish unity should be informed, inclusive and democratic. The substance of the discourse will be as important as the process of engagement itself.
“Those of us advocating for a united Ireland will have to make and win the argument that Irish unity is a superior option to the failure of partition, and the current status quo. That vision should be ambitious and one of aspiration. The positive case for constitutional change will need to be set out in concrete economic, social and political terms.
“Once a popular consensus for Irish unity has been secured a process of negotiation will inevitably commence on the shape and form of new constitutional arrangements, and national, democratic structures.
“In South Africa a constitutional convention was established during its transition to negotiate and find agreement on such modalities and institutions.
“A constitutional convention or similar setting is one possible model to engage full representative participation of all political parties, the Irish and British governments, and also key social partners in the negotiation of our transition towards Irish unity. That being; how to ensure an orderly, planned integration of economic models and a negotiated fiscal settlement, including pensions. All of this alongside a new public administration and investment in public services would be agreed, implemented and time-framed.
“Of course different political parties and civic interest groups, including the trade union movement, will have various ideas about what national and democratic arrangements, governmental institutions and structures would be desirable. All of this needs to be subject to rigorous discussion and ultimately agreement.
“Doing otherwise amounts to premature speculation. But given our experience of colonialism, and history of conflict and division, the new Ireland must be synonymous with the principles and values of inclusion, respect for difference, compassion, equality, and multiculturalism. Reconciliation, healing and anti sectarianism should be at the heart of its future political and civic institutions.”
Declan Kearney concluded: “The process of transition to an agreed, united Ireland will take time, and it must be got right. Irish unity has to be agreed among our people north and south. And we need a plan for how it will be achieved. So the Irish government should fulfil its constitutional obligation; it should start planning now.
“The opportunity to establish world-class public services, a thriving, fair and prosperous island economy, a modern, outward-looking society is the prize. We can make the new Ireland better than the old one.
“The vision of 1916 is still to be realised. It remains our reference point for the new Ireland. Now we have the momentum and road map to bring it into being.”
Link to full blog: https://www.anphoblacht.com/contents/28303