The unity conversation is gaining momentum. So what’s next?

Chris MacManus MEP on preparing for a referendum on Irish reunification

Chris MacManus MEP.

Chris MacManus MEP.

Sinn Féin’s ultimate aim is to build an Ireland of equals. This will only be achieved by getting rid of Partition, reuniting our country, and achieving full national independence.

The United Ireland we want to create sees no one left behind. Where people can access the healthcare they need, where schools are fit for purpose, where houses are homes not economic commodities, and where all of the cultures that share this island are respected, protected, and cherished.

Brexit has caused many to question long held views around which union they might prefer to be in, an inward looking fracturing UK, or an outward looking, modern United Ireland.

Brexit has also changed the international dynamic. Both newly elected President Joe Biden and Speaker Nancy Pelosi were quick to reaffirm their support for the Good Friday Agreement, asserting firm language surrounding any post Brexit behaviour from the British government that might affect people on the island of Ireland.

Likewise, in Europe, we witnessed Commissioner Maros Sefcovic, Michel Barnier, and others supporting the Irish position in their efforts to maintain the stability of the EU. Former Belgian prime minister, now MEP, Guy Verhofstadt went so far as to describe the border in Ireland as ‘an illogical divide’.

As someone who works in the EU parliament I witness sentiment like this on a regular basis and I sense that Europe sees the logic of Irish reunification. Even now, the European Union wears the reunification of Germany as a badge of honour, and as an exemplary case in point of how reunification can be a successful project in terms of peace and trade. I don’t doubt that senior officials in EU institutions are already considering a united Ireland as part of the future shape of Europe.

And why wouldn’t they? In recent years we have seen multiple EU initiatives indicating support for the island of Ireland. In April 2017, the European Council acknowledged that in accordance with international law, the entire territory of such a united Ireland would thus be part of the European Union.

In September 2019 a European Parliament resolution supported national self-determination for the people of Ireland by stating: “The Good Friday Agreement recognises the legitimacy of whatever choice is freely exercised by a majority of the people of Northern Ireland with regard to its status.” That stance was further emboldened by the EU’s resolution in April 2021 to incorporate ongoing dialogue with political representatives and stakeholders in the North post-Brexit.

And who can forget French President Emmanuel Macron, who boldly stated: “Irish reunification would solve the problems, but it is not up to France.”

Here in Ireland the old Civil War parties Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael have both stepped up their United Ireland credentials with the former launching their ‘Shared Island Unit’ and the latter headlining the issue at its recent Ard Fhéis.

Sinn Féin will work with anyone, regardless of political background, towards a United Ireland – and while we may not agree on economic or social policy, the future belongs to us all.

In fact the economic argument has long been used as a conversation stopper in relation to Irish Unity. ‘The South can’t afford the North’ is the traditional riposte. I disagree entirely and I’m not on my own. Economists such as David McWilliams, Kurt Hubner, and John Doyle have all stated that unity would bring an economic dividend. The fact is we can no longer afford the waste, duplication, and lack of integration caused by partition.

Every day, people are discussing the future constitutional arrangements.

RTÉ’s Claire Byrne special on Irish Reunification was a landmark moment. For the first time, the national broadcaster had devoted 90 minutes of primetime viewing to the topic of Irish Unity.

Civic nationalism is mobilised and groups such as Ireland’s Future and Think32 alongside thousands of Gaels across the counties of Antrim, Down, Armagh, Fermanagh, Derry, and Tyrone have all written to the Taoiseach asking him to establish a Citizens’ Assembly, to discuss the future and to begin the necessary planning work now.

The events commemorating the Decade of Centenaries has encouraged us all to learn from the past. But to build a better future, this must be the Decade of Opportunity.

Inclusive debate and discussion will lead to the creation of a new and united Ireland. Sinn Féin has repeatedly called on the Dublin Government to begin preparations by convening a Citizens’ Assembly.

Responsible political mechanisms must work in tandem with public debate and discussion to ensure we are prepared for a unity referendum. The referendum is an integral part of the Good Friday Agreement, it is coming and we must prepare now in earnest.

The new and united Ireland I am working for will be a shared and inclusive place for all our citizens, free from sectarianism and discrimination. An Ireland everyone can be proud of.


Page generated in 0.1649 seconds.