25 May 2023 Edition
The people’s voice is paramount in shaping our shared future
Sinn Féin’s Commission on a United Ireland has held four public people’s assemblies. Emma McArdle reviews the progress so far and considers the planning, preparation and foresight needed in building the new, shared and equitable Ireland.
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Everyone who calls this island home should have the opportunity to help shape our shared future. Whether you are a South Armagh/North Louth republican like me, a Tiger’s Bay loyalist, a unionist from Drum in County Monaghan or somebody who hasn’t quite made up their mind on what the best constitutional arrangement might be for your family.
What we can all agree on is that we want the best possible life experience for ourselves and our families, and to our descendants, we want to bequeath an inclusive, progressive society in which everyone has the chance to prosper.
Our children’s children deserve to live free from sectarianism, free from violence and the threat of violence, and full of the promise and opportunity that flows from a functioning economy that serves the population and a government that prioritises and cares for its citizens.
Republicans believe that the only way in which we can craft this type of society for all of the people of our island is by getting rid of Partition and uniting our people in a new national democracy.
This transition from Partition to unity and building the new, shared and equitable Ireland takes planning, preparation, and foresight.
Sinn Féin has called on the Irish government to establish a forum, a Citizens’ Assembly, which would enable and facilitate ordinary citizens to contribute to the discussion that is underway at present.
The potential of reunification is momentous for the people of Ireland and it will affect everyone on the island, so grassroots communities should be involved from the very outset and not consulted in a tokenistic way at the end of the process.
The Citizens’ Assembly on Irish Unity must be supported, resourced, and maintained by the Irish Government as part of its planning and preparation for the constitutional change which is coming.
Failure to prepare in advance of a unity referendum is a major dereliction of duty by the Irish Government and it would be a great disservice to the people of Ireland to schedule a referendum without the public being adequately informed about the proposition they are voting on.
There is now an unstoppable momentum towards Irish Unity. In the recent local government election in the North, candidates representing parties supportive of Irish Unity were elected in greater numbers than those representing parties with no stated constitutional preference or parties supportive of maintaining the Union with Britain.
This result is the latest in a series of elections across the island which demonstrate the weakening hold on power of the old, conservative parties and the rise of alternative voices seeking to work for radical change to the status quo.
The 2022 Assembly election for the first time returned Sinn Féin as the largest party in the North and the 2020 General Election in the South did the same. The local government election results are a further indication of the transformation of the political landscape.
Our constitutional future has been centre stage since the Brexit vote of 2016 and there is currently more academic research and discussion on the potential benefits of Irish Unity than ever before.
This is logical. Demographic and electoral trends point one way only. But the momentum is deeper than an abacus calculation of weekly net income post-reunification. There is a growing understanding and appreciation among the people of Ireland that aspiring to self-governance is a legitimate and worthy political position.
Among the younger generations, there is a renewed awareness that British rule over part of the country does not serve us well, and a growing confidence that the current constitutional arrangement can and will be revised.
The Irish government is currently a bystander in the conversation, content to look at opportunities for all-island collaboration, content to talk about perspectives and experiences rather than strongly advocate for reunification.
Has any Irish Government offered a sincere welcome to citizens in the North? What impression does the current Irish government make when it denies the rights of citizens of the North to vote for their President, when it refuses northern MPs speaking rights in the ‘national’ parliament, when it refused to assign to the North its extra allocation of two European Parliament seats following Brexit?
Has any Taoiseach asked a British Prime Minister to relinquish their control over the Six Counties? Imagine what could happen if the Irish Government was a protagonist in the campaign for unity.
Would there be a Department of Reunification akin to the Ministry of Intra-German Relations established by the West German government in 1949, 40 years before the Berlin Wall was breached. The South Korean government too established its Ministry of Unification in 1969 and, closer to home, the newly elected Scottish First Minister has created a Junior Minister for Independence in his government.
Sinn Féin is not a bystander in the national conversation. We want a new, shared independent Ireland.
We have also made a commitment to facilitate a grassroots conversation and consultation on the future through the Commission on the Future of Ireland, which the party established in 2021.
Since then, the Commission has held four People’s Assemblies under the theme of ‘Have Your Say’. These events, which took place in Belfast, Derry, Donegal, and Louth have been attended by hundreds of people and watched on YouTube by thousands.
They provide an opportunity for people within these areas to come along and contribute on the night or simply listen to the conversation.
Feedback has been overwhelmingly positive towards this major initiative and there is a huge public appetite for this type of conversational event.
After the summer break, the Commission will host further People’s Assemblies in Waterford and Galway and, in the coming weeks, sectoral events have been planned with a Belfast Women’s Assembly scheduled for Tuesday 27 June and a Dublin Youth Assembly which will take place on Wednesday 28 June.
In addition, there is an ongoing call for people or groups to give us their thoughts through written contributions which can be made via the Sinn Féin website or by emailing: [email protected]
When the unity referendum is held, it will be the people’s day. Let’s begin the process of including all of our citizens in the conversation at the earliest opportunity. ν
• Emma McArdle is a Campaign and Policy Manager on Sinn Féin’s Uniting Ireland project.