Irish Government must establish Citizens’ Assembly on the future of the island of Ireland

06 August 2022

Speaking this week at Féile an Pobail in Belfast, Labour Senator Marie Sherlock called on the Irish Government to establish a citizens’ assembly on the future of our island.

Participating in a discussion entitled “Preparing for a New Ireland”, Senator Sherlock spoke about the importance of generating a conversation about the future of our island.

While opinion poll data shows that upwards of two-thirds of people in the Republic support a united Ireland, this support does not follow through for a change to our flag, anthem or indeed any changes to our taxation system to accommodate the newer and enlarged economy.

Senator Sherlock said:

“While we might interpret this as people maintaining a staunch position, the more likely situation is that people have not thought through what a united or shared island might look like and how all the communities on this island might be accommodated, migrant and otherwise.”

She noted that, outside of those whose lived reality is partition and life along the border or within the North, there is an enormous task to ensure the conversation about the future of our island takes place and that there is a greater understanding of life in the North.

Senator Sherlock added:

“The economic and political reality of Brexit and the reckless position of the British Government towards the protocol has wreaked havoc within certain communities in Northern Ireland and the exploitation of these issues by some unionist politicians has been shameful. However, Brexit has also brought us into a potentially very exciting period with regard to the future of our island. This prospect must not be “owned” by any one political party. The success of any future referendum in the Republic will depend on political leadership across all political parties.”

On the issue of people understanding life and work in the North, she said at a basic level there remains an issue with the number of people in the Republic who have never visited in the North or haven’t done in a long period of time.

“We know from NISRA Travel statistics the volume of north-south overnight stays was more than twice south-north travel and that represented a significant improvement on previous years- in 2014, north south overnight stays was more than four times south north travel.

“However, its important to say, on the upside, the degree of integration between north south enterprises is stronger than what many of us might imagine. This is important in understanding the ability of business to be able to withstand significant future changes.”

Quoting NISRA statistics on trade, Senator Sherlock highlighted that more companies sell into the south from the north (9841 as of 2020), than sell into the Britain (9639 as of 2020) and while the volume of sales in GB is higher, this profile of companies does bode well with regard to adapting to future constitutional changes.

Senator Sherlock concluded by calling on the Government to commit to a series of institutional initiatives, one to include establishing a citizen’s assembly on the issue of the future of this island. She also highlighted the example of Donegal county council in establishing a Constitutional change working group.

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