Message from Party Leader - Edition 5 2024

Labour’s Stance on United Ireland
Ivana Bacik TD

Speaking at the recent Ireland’s Future event in Belfast on 15th June 2024, I spoke on behalf of Labour to articulate our vision for a united Ireland. In this edition of Leftfield, I put forward an edited version of my remarks at that event.

As Connollyite republicans, and as members of the oldest political party in the State, Labour aspires to achieve an agreed, united island, founded on fairness and equality for all people on the island.

Like our sister Party in the Party of European Socialists, the SDLP, we share a strong commitment to the achievement of a social Europe and a recognition of the vital importance of the European project and the EU to the future of this island.

We in Labour stand for a real republic across the island – one which values equality and redistribution more than just semantics; one which can see beyond sectarianism; one which recognises that true equality is based on pluralism.

We are advocates for the holding of a referendum on Irish Unity; but we believe that a necessary amount of preparatory work must be done in both jurisdictions in advance of any such referendum vote. We must learn from the mistakes of Brexit to ensure that people on both sides of the Border are clear on what it is they are voting on, and critically to ensure that a new, agreed and united island would form the basis for a state accepted by all communities on the island.

Generosity must be at the heart of any successful transition – whether it is the Just Transition we need on Climate Change, or the transition required to deliver a united island.  We  cannot swap the majoritarianism of the past for a new one.

We should take inspiration from the work of the great social democratic peacemaker, John Hume, who was courageous enough to rewrite the canon of Irish nationalism by pointing out that it is people that matter – not territories.

Just as people matter, so to do their economic circumstances – you cannot eat a flag! There is no more republican sentiment than that.

Hume was inherently critical of Irish nationalism’s failure to address unionist opposition to its unity project, in both its constitutional and republican guises – from Home Rule to the War of Independence.

There is nothing inherently natural or pre-determined about any political settlement on the island – unionist or nationalist.

If we are to live in peace with each other, under any constitutional settlement, it will require respect and allegiance for any constitutional arrangement.

In 2024, there are no planters and there are no Gaels.  There are only those who by accident of birth or act of choice call this island home. You can be British Irish in the same way that you can be Nigerian Irish and Polish Irish – or indeed Czech Irish as in my own case.

Our national identity is not set in 1916.  It is a living breathing phenomenon, unrecognisable today from  a century ago and will be different again in another century.

Demographic changes make it even more important that we abide by the principles of the Good Friday Agreement, our political guiding star.

The principle of Consent is at the core of that Agreement.

That may be the legal test, but the moral test is greater still.

The consent of the biggest number possible, from all traditions, new and old, must be our goal in seeking a shared future on this island.

To abide by the principle of Consent, we must recognise that we must do the work necessary to enable informed choices in any referendum about the future of the island, on both sides of the border; to protect our island’s most marginalised communities from the consequences of a hasty campaign, or the vanity project of any one group seeking ideological victory.

In advance of any referendum, an all-island citizens’ assembly , approved by the Stormont Assembly and the Oireachtas, must be put together.

Whatever proposals for the future of our island are arrived at, if they are to serve as an ‘offer’, they need to enjoy broad political support across the entire island.

So considerable work will need to be done in assembling the arguments for change, and the solutions to the issues that will inevitably arise from doing so, in advance of the debate around   creating such assemblies.

The Taoiseach’s Shared Island Unit has been a hugely positive initiative in this regard – and other welcome initiatives are examining some of the practical issues in developing the preparatory groundwork for holding a citizens’ assembly or indeed a referendum.  The preparatory work in advance of establishing the assembly/assemblies needs to be an All of Government agenda.

The best way to go about this is to revive the old Green and White Paper tradition of assembling the evidence and identifying both problems and solutions before proceeding.

The Green Paper brings together the broad range of issues and the White Paper focuses on possible solutions. This process should be adopted by Government, to identify the issues that require discussion and deliberation at open and visible citizens’ assemblies.  Once this process is complete, the process of establishing the citizens’ assemblies through legislative systems can get underway.

Finally, we must recognise that many people will vote in a unity referendum on issues of identity, but others will vote on economic and social issues. While the obvious issues of symbolism regarding an anthem or a flag can dominate debate, there are much more challenging questions that require deliberation.

What does an all-island national development plan for infrastructure look like?

How will we deal with the economics of any new arrangements?

What will housing, health and education systems look like?

Not just slogans, realistic and affordable solutions must be offered.

It is easy to talk about a new Ireland – but that Ireland will be built on the foundations of our current systems.

When we dream of a new Ireland – a fair and equal Ireland – we must be realistic about our current infrastructure which is inadequate to meet the real needs of communities on so many fronts. We must face up to – the challenges of the climate emergency, the cost of living crisis,  housing,  and early years education and childcare  Our infrastructure has suffered from the hegemony of the two-party system of the past century.


Addressing these challenges is no small task.

But we are ready. At our most recent Labour Party Conference in March, Labour members debated and adopted a position paper on how we unite this island.

The Labour Party fully endorsed the Good Friday Agreement and has consistently called for its full implementation. Despite the political challenges  Northern Ireland has experienced since 1998 and notwithstanding the many pauses in the functioning of local political institutions, that wholehearted support remains.

Moving beyond the Agreement’s 25th anniversary, we must not stand still. We must recognise the need to refresh and reset parts of the Good Friday Agreement and address the issues around political institutions with much needed reform, We need to acknowledge the changing political dynamics across our island  caused by the Brexit referendum, and the current public debate about a future referendum on Irish unity.

It is on this latter point that our position paper reviews the unity debate and sets out proposals on how we continue to support the Good Friday Agreement while recognising the need to prepare for political change across the island of Ireland.

The days of misty-eyed fantasising are over. We now stand on the precipice of opportunity – for a united Ireland; a social Ireland.

To fail to plan is to squander that great opportunity, and to fail future generations and those which came before us.

There is much work to be done in the debate on the future of our island, and Labour will approach it constructively.

Arguably ours, is the only tradition that has ever enjoyed significant cross community support.  Our history also affords us the opportunity to make a unique contribution to this debate – and that is what we will continue to do.

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