By Sinn Féin National Chairperson Declan Kearney
The road map announced by Nicola Sturgeon for a Scottish independence referendum in 2023 will have political implications across these islands in the coming months.
That is why the Irish government’s refusal to even begin the preparations for Irish unity is increasingly untenable.
If the current coalition partners are unwilling to grasp this reality, then the Irish government system needs to develop new thinking and policy proposals on how future governments should prepare for re-unification and a full return to the European Union.
In the last four most significant opinion polls in the south, Sinn Féin has recorded 36 per cent popular approval ratings.
It may not be inevitable, but it is certainly ‘game on’ for a Sinn Féin-led government in Dublin.
Irish unity will be a central political objective of that administration. Better then to begin preparing the essential policy frameworks of constitutional and political transition. This Irish government should convene an all-island Citizens’ Assembly to structure the current discussion on Irish unity, as a stage in advance of holding a unity referendum.
Next year is the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement.
Sinn Féin believes the debate on how to achieve Irish unity needs to be informed and considered. It should not be like the sordid fake news synonymous with Brexit and the current protocol impasse. We can do better than that.
Sinn Féin has described this era as a decade of opportunity, for all the people of Ireland. A decade for big, new, dynamic ideas. A time to re-imagine our future.
Irish unity is a reasonable and achievable objective. But the transition towards constitutional change and a new national, democratic framework in Ireland needs to be carefully planned, and resourced. It should be orderly, and taken forward in phases. We must be ambitious and inclusive. The way forward should be guided by dialogue and popular democratic participation involving all sectors of Irish society.
Hope, aspiration, and a better future for all, should be our ‘north star’. Irish unity is the big idea whose time has come. We need to get it right. The new Ireland must not be the old Ireland.
Last summer, the Sinn Féin Ard Chomhairle agreed to establish a Commission on the Future of Ireland as an ambitious, open consultation on the future of the island. It was delayed then by the Covid-19 pandemic.
This week Uachtarán Shinn Féin, Mary Lou McDonald, launched the initiative announcing that an inaugural People’s Assembly will take place in Belfast‘s Waterfront Hall on October 12. The commission is no substitute for a Citizens’ Assembly, but an initiative from Sinn Féin to nurture the ongoing public debate. Its mission is to encourage alternative proposals to be presented by those with different visions of Ireland. To widen the current discussion. The process will emphasise that everyone should be part of planning for the new Ireland.
It is intended as a forum for citizens from across society to have their say on themes like maximising economic opportunities; new constitutional arrangements; democratic structures and governance; rights and equality issues; protection of minorities; the role of the Irish government; and future economic and public policy models, including an Irish national health service, pension arrangements, and social protections in a united Ireland.
Importantly, the commission will seek to engage with all sections of our people. There is an unprecedented momentum for Irish unity. It is exciting. We are arguably fast approaching a tipping point. Let’s seize the moment we are all living through and shape the opportunities. It is time to prepare and plan for the change which is coming.