Michelle O’Neill MLA, Mary Lou McDonald TD and Liadh Ní Riada MEP at the conference in Cork
Matt Carthy addresses Towards a United Ireland conference in Cork on Saturday last.

Sinn Féin MEP Matt Carthy has said that as political change continues across the island and support for Irish unity increases, all parties need to engage with the issue and plan for future constitutional change.

As an immediate step, he said, parties that support the objective of Irish unity must come together to devise how to win a referendum on the issue.

The Midlands North West MEP was speaking at a major United Ireland conference in Cork where he joined Sinn Féin President Mary Lou McDonald TD, Vice President Michelle O’Neill MLA and fellow MEP Liadh Ní Riada.

Other speakers at the two panel discussions includes political commentator Noel Whelan, Bill White of the Lucid Talks polling company, Dr Paul Burgess of UCC, author and former special adviser Kevin Meaghar, satirist Paddy Cullivan and John Douglas of Mandate trade union.

The discussions were moderated by Cork’s 96FM talk show host Pj Coogan and Irish Times jourmalist Kitty Holland.

Matt carthy said:

“As change continues, it is incumbent on the Irish Government and indeed all parties in this state to make clear that they will commit to the holding of a unity referendum.

“The debate is happening.  Political parties cannot pretend it is not or wish it away.

“We invited Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael to today’s events as we have in each of the conferences in this series.  They again refused.

“Last March, in a front page splash in The Irish Times, Micheál Martin, announced that Fianna Fáil were preparing to publish ‘A Roadmap to a United Ireland’.

“Eleven months later, when we invited Teachta Martin to join us today he told us that a debate on a United Ireland is ‘premature’.

“That is disappointing, and I don’t say that to score political points.  We want to work with Fianna Fáil to build support for a United Ireland and to make the transition to Irish Unity a success.

“The same goes for Fine Gael, the SDLP, the Labour party, People before Profit and every other party that says they want to see a United Ireland.

“Because the truth is we won’t deliver reunification on the back of a Fianna Fáil roadmap. We won’t do it on the back of a Sinn Féin roadmap either.  We can only do it if we all work together.

“To me one thing is certain – there will be a referendum on Irish Unity – in my view sooner than most people realise.

“Therefore, those of us who advocate for reunification need to come together to discuss the practical issue of how we win such a referendum.

“What any campaign for a united Ireland must do is turn the increasing support for unity into an unstoppable momentum.”

Note: Please see the full speech below (Check against delivery)

A chairde,

A referendum on Irish unity is an explicit provision of the Good Friday Agreement, supported by an overwhelming majority of voters on this island two decades ago.

In recent years, the conditions for the holding of such a referendum have increased dramatically.

In the most recent Assembly elections the combined votes of those parties supporting Irish reunification compared to those in favour of continued Partition saw a gap of a mere 30,000 votes.

If, by the time of the next scheduled Assembly elections in 2022, votes for nationalist parties outnumber those for unionist parties, there can be no case whatsoever for denying a referendum on the future constitutional status of the North.

Support for a united Ireland, North and South, is building among young people in particular according to every recent opinion poll.

The wider demographic trends are telling us that the sands are shifting inexorably and rapidly towards an Irish nationalist majority in the North.

And then, of course, there is Brexit.

Brexit is creating an entirely new dynamic in the debate on Irish Unity.

The prospect of the North of Ireland being removed from the European Union against the will of the people who live there, and a reinforcing of the border, has brought the issue of Irish unity firmly to the centre of the political agenda.

The prospect of having one part of this island inside the EU and another outside it is illogical to anyone with a concern for the economic, political or social future of a country.

In one clear signal of changing times 82,000 residents in the North sought an Irish passport in 2017, an increase of almost 20%.

As this change continues apace, it is incumbent on the Irish Government and indeed all parties in this state to make clear that they will commit to the holding of a unity referendum.

The debate is happening.  Political parties cannot pretend it is not or wish it away.

We invited Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael to today’s events as we have in each of the conferences in this series.  They again refused.

Last March, in a front page splash in The Irish Times, Míchéal Martin, announced that Fianna Fáil were preparing to publish ‘A Roadmap to a United Ireland’.

Eleven months later, when we invited Mr. Martin to join us today he told us that a debate on a United Ireland is ‘premature’.

That is disappointing, and I don’t say that to score political points.  We want to work with Fianna Fáil to build support for a United Ireland and to make the transition to Irish Unity a success.  The same goes for Fine Gael, the SDLP, the Labour party, People before Profit and every other party that says they want to see a United Ireland.

“Because the truth is we won’t deliver reunification on the back of a Fianna Fáil roadmap.  We won’t do it on the back of a Sinn Féin roadmap either.  We can only do it if we all work together.

“To me one thing is certain – there will be a referendum on Irish Unity – in my view sooner than most people realise.

“Therefore, those of us who advocate for reunification need to come together to discuss the practical issue of how we win such a referendum.

“What any campaign for a united Ireland must do is turn the increasing support for unity into an unstoppable momentum.

“That will require a focus on the issues that matter to ordinary people in their daily lives, North and South.

“Many people yet to be fully convinced of the fact that a United Ireland is not only affordable but economically advantageous.

“The argument that a united Ireland will benefit all of our people North and South, unlocking the real economic potential of the island and acting as a spur for economic growth must be pressed home.

“All the research demonstrates that in terms of synergies, economies of scale, infrastructural development, and a raft of other areas, a United Ireland makes sense.

“Recent research by Hubner and Van Nieuwkoop (2015) showed that Irish Unity would result in a significant long-term improvement in Ireland’s economy.

“It concludes, even using incredibly conservative formula, that Irish Unity would result in €35.6 billion boost in all-island GDP during the first eight years of unification.

“Any neutral observer can see that there are no advantages for a relatively small island nation, with 6.4 million inhabitants, on the edge of Europe having separate tax regimes and legal systems, competing economic development programmes, and back-to-back health and education systems.

“An integrated economy would empower the North and strengthen the fiscal potential of the whole island.

“We must show that a united Ireland makes sense in terms of the economy, public services, investment, exports, agriculture, policing and justice and sport as well as in terms of inclusion and diversity.

“A united Ireland would allow us to build a truly National Health Service.

“Sinn Féin has proposed moving from increased cooperation to full integration of services on the island, taking the best from both systems and maximising the healthcare benefits for all, achieving greater economies of scale and increased service provision.

“The campaign for a united Ireland must be linked to the everyday struggles of the people, whether it is for a better health service, a better transport service, a better housing policy or workers rights and conditions.

“We need to emphasise that we are seeking to build a new Ireland – an equal society that serves the interests of all the people who share this island.

“We need to demonstrate that the undoing of partition and its effects are central to the building of a truly modern, progressive, inclusive, open and forward-looking society.

“We also need to accept that a process of national reconciliation is central to any genuine effort to unite the people of this island.

“The agreement of a significant section of people who are now described as unionists is required for the building of a united Ireland.

“The type of united Ireland that we put forward must be one that is agreed, inclusive, pluralist and which is constructed by all our citizens, from all backgrounds and traditions.

“As Britain jettisons its current relationship with the Europe, the appeal of being part of a new, re-imagined and outward-looking Ireland will prove ever more attractive to at least some within the unionist community in the North.

“We need to show that the most realistic way to ensure that the wishes of people in the North to remain in the EU are realised is through the unity of this island.

“In any referendum campaign, those advocating a united Ireland must demonstrate an understanding that we have different traditions on this island. That there are people on this island who consider themselves British.

“We must emphasize that the British identity can and will be accommodated in an agreed, united Ireland.

“This may involve constitutional and political safeguards and we must be open, flexible and imaginative in that discussion.

“We need to be open to considering transitional arrangements, which could mean continued devolution to Stormont within an all-Ireland structure.

“Increased all-Ireland co-operation and the building of relationships between people from different political outlooks, as well as being worthy in itself, can also be contribute to preparing the ground for smooth constitutional transition. Such co-operation must increase.

“In this regard, Sinn Féin is campaigning for the Oireachtas to introduce automatic Dáil membership for MPs from the North and, pending this, to immediately introduce speaking and consultative rights for Northern MPs and Assembly members in the Dáil and Seanad.

“We have also demanded that the Government initiate the promised referendum on Presidential voting rights for citizens in the North and the Irish diaspora.

“We are also seeking the establishment by the Oireachtas of a national forum to bring together all parties and key sectors representative of civic society on the island to consult together on the constitutional and political future, including the issue of Irish unity and national reconciliation.

“It is time now for the Irish Government to encourage and lead an informed, reasoned and respectful public dialogue on the issue of Irish unity.

“It is also time that the Government prepared a realistic plan for Irish reunification, including the establishment of an Oireachtas all-party group to bring forward a Green Paper for Irish reunification.

“A chairde, it has never been clearer that the division of Ireland has failed in the past and that it continues to blight our present.

“I believe that we are now entering a defining period in Irish political history.

“We now have a unique opportunity now to build a future beyond Partition, sectarianism and division.

“An opportunity to build a new, agreed Ireland, that serves the interests of all the people who share this island.

“This is the message that will win a referendum campaign. The debate has started. It’s time that everyone joined the discussion.

 

 

Let’s turn the desire for a United Ireland into an unstoppable momentum 

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