Ireland’s Future Conference

Jim O’Callaghan TD 

15 September 2022

Everyone at this event believes that the future of the people living on this island would be better served by reunification. No one here needs to convince other speakers or attendees of the benefits of Ireland and Northern Ireland becoming a single united entity.

However, we do need to try to convince others: those who are not interested in reunification, those who are ambivalent about it, and those who are opposed to it, many vehemently so. Some people within those groups may be persuaded to engage with the issue, but there are others who simply won’t engage because they believe engagement is a form of endorsement. That is understandable and should not be ignored.

Irrespective of whether people engage with the issue or not, people who are ambivalent or opposed are entitled to know that a United Ireland would be built on a number of fundamental principles that would ensure equality and respect for all persons living within any new entity. There is also an obligation on those who espouse a United Ireland to promote and emphasise those principles.

It would be helpful to the discussion of this important question if the people who have come here today, from diverse political backgrounds, recognised and emphasised principles upon which a United Ireland would be founded and which could not be abrogated. I therefore propose seven principles or protections or indeed covenants that people who advocate reunification should agree to and, in some instances, concede. The objective of these principles (and others that may be proposed) is to generate a sense of protection and belonging for everyone who may become part of a new Ireland, and to facilitate any negotiations in the aftermath of a border poll.

1.      In a new Ireland people of all religions and none and people of all ethnicities would be treated equally before the law. Irish history both before and after partition is littered with examples of discrimination against religions. A United Ireland will guarantee that all religions would be respected, and the practice or non-practice of religion would be vindicated by the State.

2.      In a new Ireland the cultural identity of different groups on the island would be cherished and defended. A Loyalist flute band and the Kilfenora Céilí Band would be equally valued as expressions of the different cultural richness that exists on the island. A United Ireland will guarantee that the Ulster Scots and British Heritage of people living on the island will be equally as valued and protected as the Gaelic and Old Irish Heritage. A United Ireland will also guarantee that the heritage of new Irish people who come from outside the Orange and Green traditions will also be equally cherished and valued.

3.      In a new Ireland the people of Northern Ireland will not become politically submerged under the control of the new State. Consequently, a United Ireland will guarantee that Stormont – whether under a federal system or a bicameral system – will be a house of legislature that will continue to make laws.

4.      A new Ireland will be a member of the European Union and will be an open economy that will actively promote and attract foreign direct investment. The economy of Northern Ireland needs greater attention and investment. Consequently, a United Ireland will guarantee that for the first twenty years of its existence foreign direct investment shall be equally shared between both former jurisdictions.

5.      Although States frequently demand the loyalty of their citizens, many people in Northern Ireland will remain loyal to the British Crown even if there is constitutional change. They cannot and should not be forced to change that loyalty. Consequently, a United Ireland will guarantee that it will not demand the loyalty of all persons living on the island. A new Ireland must earn, not demand, the loyalty of its citizens.

6.      A new Ireland will ensure that there are very close east-west relations between the central and devolved Governments of our two islands. A United Ireland will guarantee that the British/Irish Council and the British/Irish Intergovernmental Conference established under the Good Friday Agreement will continue, and will be actively worked to encourage closer co-operation and excellent relations between Great Britain and Ireland.

7.      The violence perpetrated in support of a United Ireland in the past has had a lasting and negative impact on many who oppose reunification. Those who advocate Irish reunification guarantee that at no stage will they engage in or support violence to promote their desired political objective and to achieve constitutional change.

If those who advocate a new Ireland can guarantee core principles such as those outlined here, there will be an opportunity for those who oppose Irish reunification to appreciate that even if the majority of people of Northern Ireland vote for a unitary State, the rights, privileges and culture of minorities within that new Ireland, and the distinctive circumstances of Northern Ireland, will be unambiguously protected and cherished.

Finally, it is important to recognise and emphasise that a United Ireland is not going to result in homogenous political views on this island. In fact, the political diversity and competing political viewpoints that are present in this room today will exist in a United Ireland even though the attendees here share a common approach on this one issue. It should be noted that, aside from this issue, the varied political views of those in Northern Ireland who oppose Irish reunification are reflected in this room and throughout the rest of the island.

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