Writing in An Phoblacht, Sinn Féin National Chairperson, Declan Kearney MLA, has called for those committed to Irish unity to set out a persuasive vision of constitutional change in Ireland.
Referring to how Brexit has changed the political landscape, he said:
“The fifth anniversary of the British referendum on withdrawal from the European Union (EU) has just passed. The imposition of Brexit on majorities in the north of Ireland and Scotland, who voted to remain within the EU has had profound political, economic and social consequences. Brexit has detonated a constitutional earthquake at the heart of what has been known as the ‘United Kingdom’.
“In more recent times the challenge of dealing with Covid-19 has had a major political influence on political perceptions and relations. So too, has the English Tory government’s drive to centralise political and economic power in Whitehall, and by extension reduce the autonomy of the northern Assembly, Scottish parliament and Welsh Sennad.
“As a result a new exciting conversation has begun about constitutional change and Irish unity. And it is growing in momentum. The Good Friday Agreement (GFA) provides a democratic mechanism through concurrent referendums north and south, to enable constitutional change.
“Those of us who espouse Irish unity need to explain the overall economic and fiscal benefits accruing from reunification and how we can guarantee an Irish national health service free at the point of delivery. We have to provide a persuasive vision of a new pluralist, multicultural, rights based society, which will put reconciliation at the heart of its civic and political institutions.”
In his article, the Minister in the Executive Office addressed the current apprehensions among some unionists, and proposed a citizens’ assembly to enable inclusive discussion on managing future change. He said:
“A project fear narrative has been whipped up by unionist political leaders which seeks to conflate identity politics with new trading realities. The Protocol has been weaponised to mask the DUP’s failure of leadership and strategy.
“So the apprehensions which exist should be logically and sympathetically addressed.
“The shelves in our shops are not empty. The costs of our weekly shopping baskets have not increased. Real efforts are being made to smooth out difficulties with the operation of the Protocol. There is no threat to availability of cancer or other drugs, or medical supplies. Instead the north’s regional economy is poised to benefit from dual market access, with potential new foreign investment and new jobs.
“The dynamics of constitutional change are in plain sight. These need to be discussed and managed. That’s why so many within civic unionism are already pragmatically engaged with the debate.
“Unionism is not a monolith. It contains thinkers who can anticipate change. Those who are strategically far seeing enough to recognise that it’s better to prepare for ultimate negotiations, rather than wait until it is too late.
“Everyone must be involved in the dialogue about a new, agreed Ireland; republicans, unionists, nationalists, loyalists, and those from none of these traditions, but who call this place home. Every stripe of political and civic society should have its voice heard. A dedicated citizens’ assembly on constitutional change would create both a forum and foundation to anchor this process of change in Ireland.
“Our approach to the process of constitutional change needs to be about inclusion not marginalisation.”
“For our part, republicans will be sincere and generous partners in helping to pioneer a path towards constitutional change and a new Ireland, with all sections of Irish society, and especially our unionist neighbours.”