Waffling Harris urges people to ‘get to know each other’
Waffling Harris urges people to ‘get to know each other’


Sinn Féin vice president Michelle O’Neill has warned the new 26 County Taoiseach Simon Harris that he cannot ‘hide his head’ in the sand on Irish unification.

The Six County First Minister was responding to Harris’s statement that unity was not currently a priority for him.

Ms O’Neill said the debate on constitutional change was a “very live one” and the Dublin government needed to commence preparations in advance of a future referendum on unity.

Asked for her response to Mr Harris’s recent remarks on unity, she told reporters in Belfast: “I think that there’s no escaping the fact that the debate around constitutional change is a very live one, and more and more people are entering into that conversation, which is a healthy thing.

“Let’s have the maturity in which to deliver good public services, do what we have to do in government, but also have the maturity to alongside that have a very pragmatic conversation about constitutional change – what that might look like and Fine Gael shouldn’t put their head in the sand on that.

“They need to be engaged in the conversation and I would encourage the Taoiseach now that he is in post now to bring about the work in terms of planning for constitutional change. Let’s have the citizens’ assembly (on unity). Let’s have the debate around education, health, what does the future look like for our economy across the island?”

Mr Harris comments on the issue of Irish unity since he replaced Leo Varadkar as Taoiseach have been vague and non-committal.

Attending the launch of a new Sinn Fein paper on tackling sectarianism and segregation on Wednesday, Ms O’Neill was also asked by reporters whether she had concerns over Mr Harris’s perceived relative lack of ministerial experience dealing with issues related to the North.

Ms O’Neill said it was really important that Mr Harris made a visit north of the border in the near future.

“There are huge opportunities, I think, now for a refresh of the north-south relations and for that co-operation across the island,” she said. “So I would be looking forward to speaking to the Taoiseach in the next short while and to inviting him to the north in terms of being able to further some of that conversation.”

Addressing the Dáil on Tuesday, Mr Harris pledged to honour his role as a ‘protector of the Good Friday Agreement’.

On Sunday, he was asked about recent discussions regarding the costs of reunification.

“Instinctively, I want to see a united Ireland and cost isn’t the overbearing factor,” Mr Harris told RTE television.

But he stressed his priority was harnessing the “full potential” of the Good Friday Agreement and building better cross-border relations.

“The priority right now, in my view, for the people on the island of Ireland is to live in peace, live in prosperity, get to know each other better,” he said.

However, at a meeting of the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly in County Wicklow, Harris again offered only banal, ‘feel good’ comments on the North.

He told an audience of parliamentarians that there is a “whole generation of people who are yearning to be involved in a conversation about the future, in a conversation about how we work together”.

He said: “I’m also, if I’m being very honest, of a generation where people are more familiar now with London and Berlin and Paris than they might be with Belfast or Derry.

“I think we really have to challenge ourselves – how do we actually make sure people on this island and these islands get to know each other better?

“Because it is interpersonal relationships, it’s knowing each other, it’s being familiar with each other that is the key to embedding peace.

“I think there’s a challenge in all of us and a challenge I pose to this assembly today. How do we get talking again and how do we get people to know each other?”

Sinn Féin candidate for the European election in Midlands/North West, Michelle Gildernew MP, has said that ‘Simon Harris clearly doesn’t speak for his generation on Irish unity.

She said the “clumsy and ill-informed” remarks were not reflective of young people’s view on achieving a United Ireland.

“He does not represent his generation’s views,” she said.

“Ireland is changing and young people, north and south, are to the fore in the conversation about the future of our country.

“Young people I meet are enthused and excited about the prospect of a United Ireland, and we need to talk about the change that is underway and start planning. They know they will be involved in shaping a nation and are excited by the prospect.

“The Irish government cannot continue to look the other way. If Simon Harris wants to do something productive, he should start to prepare now for unity by establishing a Citizens’ Assembly to plan for Irish unity.”

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