24 November 2022 Edition
People are looking for a new future
The first meeting of Commission on the Future of Ireland was held in Belfast in October, with over 300 people attending, and further meetings are planned for December and throughout 2023.
Sinn Féin National Chairperson Declan Kearney outlines the value the Commission’s discussions could have on shaping the future Ireland.
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Change is happening in Ireland and people are looking for a new future. Constitutional change is on the horizon. Electoral realignment and changing demographics have been influential and the arrogance and chaos of successive Tory governments and the Brexit madness foisted upon us by them and the DUP has turned a dial.
Who seriously wants to be part of their economic and political dysfunction? Instead, a new discussion has begun about another way forward for our island - one built on progress, pluralism & shared prosperity.
Of course, that doesn’t mean Irish unity is inevitable, but it has become one of the most dominant and defining discussions in society. The unionist electoral majority has gone, and the unionist veto is finished.
Many from Protestant backgrounds and unionist traditions have begun to reassess their economic and social priorities in the context of reunification and as a route back into the EU. There is a new future for Ireland to be authored. One which is positive, progressive, inclusive, anti-sectarian, and multi-cultural.
We can achieve this by preparing and planning together. That is why the Irish government should establish an all-island Citizens’ Assembly to address the future, based on a process of engagement involving civic society and which starts to help frame discussion on all key issues.
Irish reunification will evolve from the exercise of self-determination in a unity referendum, and ultimately through negotiations. This political transition will be phased, and all of our people should be given the opportunity to shape its development.
The Sinn Féin Commission on the Future of Ireland was established by the party leadership with the aim of undertaking a widespread engagement with citizens in Ireland and across the diaspora on Ireland’s future.
It is not intended as an alternative to a Citizens' Assembly, but rather a model of grassroots community and sectoral engagement on important policy issues concerning Irish reunification. It’s about promoting popular democracy on these big questions.
The Commission has 4 elements:
- People’s Assemblies which will be held across the country and internationally
- Sectoral engagements
- Private engagements where appropriate
- The collation of written contributions/submissions from members of the public, community groups and organisations
The testimony gathered at all of the public elements of the Commission will be published in a report at the culmination of the project, which will last approximately two years.
On 12 October the Commission hosted its inaugural People’s Assembly at the Waterfront Hall in Belfast. Over 300 people attended from all sections of society in greater Belfast. I opened the event as Chairperson of our Commission, and it was also addressed by Sinn Fein Leas Uachtarán Michelle O’Neill.
The conference was divided into two sessions, covering ‘The Economy and Communities in the New Ireland’ and also ‘A New Ireland for everyone’.
Speakers who addressed the gathering included the ESRI Research Professor Seamus McGuinness; Ruth Taillon who has been involved in cross border policy work for 20 years; Glyn Roberts, Chief Executive of Retail NI; Áine Hargey, Chairperson of the Markets Development Association; David Gavigan, a leading Belfast businessman; Greta Gurklyte, who is Engagement Officer with Disability Action; QUB’s Professor John Barry; Dr Raied Al-Wazzan of the Northern Ireland Council for Racial Equality; Maighréad Ní Chonghaile, an Irish Language activist and Gaelscoil Principal; and Ben Collins, author & communications consultant.
A lively discussion followed presentations from the panellists and the meeting concluded with the independent chairperson, Eilish Rooney, calling for a show of hands in support of the Irish Government establishing a Citizens’ Assembly on the future.
The Commission is now preparing for its next initiative which will be hosted on Tuesday 6 December at 7pm in Derry’s City Hotel. This event will explore the theme of ‘Celebrating Diversity – Ending Division’. The objective is to create a space for people to listen to and participate in a discussion about processes to bridge differences in Derry, and beyond and to address the important work of building a better future.
The early programme of Commission work in 2023, will include a second People’s Assembly on 30 January 2023 in County Donegal to be staged in An Grianán Theatre, Letterkenny.
In March 2023, another People’s Assembly is being planned for Carrickcarnon in the Carrickdale Hotel to cover the east border sub region.
The Sinn Féin Commission warmly invites everyone to attend these events. We want you to have your say on how the future needs to be managed and planned.
It is essential that we all have an opportunity to influence the type of country we want, and the kind of democratic and economic arrangements which will best serve our people. The future belongs to all of us, and the next generation. Our voices, hopes, ambitions, and ideas are important. They should be heard.