The leader of Ireland’s newest and fastest-growing political party has said he is convinced there is an appetite for a new movement that is both republican and pro-life. Peadar Tóibín – founder of Aontú – told The Irish Catholic that his party envisions a united Ireland which also includes constitutional provisions that protect the unborn.
His comments come after founder and director of Precious Life Bernadette Smyth, told this newspaper last week that support for a united Ireland is at odds with a pro-life vision, given that the North protects rights of the unborn, compared to its southern counterpart.
While concerns like these have been raised at his public meetings ahead of the movement’s first major challenge with local elections north of the border on May 2 and in the south on May 24, Mr Tóibín said that the process of creating a united Ireland does not naively involve the North absorbing all laws and institutions of the Republic, but having cross-border dialogue to discuss in concrete terms what a new Ireland would look like.
“I believe that we should actually be looking at developing some kind of all-Ireland convention to discuss what exactly Irish unity would look like, and what structures would be in place.
“It would be very possible that you could have a united Ireland with some level of Stormont regime functioning in which Stormont remains in place for a period of time, and the laws of the North remain under Stormont for that period of time,” the former Sinn Féin member said, adding that laws pertaining to abortion could fit under this paradigm.
Indeed, given that a number of former Sinn Féin representatives such as councillors Fergal Lennon and Oliver O’Brien have defected to Aontú partly over abortion issues, the appetite for a pro-life, united Ireland is certainly present and thriving.
“I also think that it is possible it could remain different on the issue of abortion in the North and South in a Stormont federalist type of united Ireland if that was a choice.
“But there is absolutely no way that you would just add in 1.8million people into a united Ireland and not allow them to have some say in regards to the abortion laws that currently exist,” the Meath TD said, stressing that Aontú is still working to stop the availability of abortion in Ireland and make our current laws “more humane”.
The united Ireland Mr Tóibín speaks about – one where the North is not just a mere appendage of the South – requires that constitutional issues be discussed and worked out on an all-Ireland basis. It’s important to remember, of course, that while the Good Friday Agreement is fully open to the establishment of a united Ireland if willed by a majority of voters, there’s no direction to what this new-Ireland will look like politically and functionally.
Mr Tóibín’s emphasis on concrete action, through an Irish convention which sees dialogue between politicians and lawmakers, seems to be a clear answer to this current absence of guidance.
At the moment, he says, the main parties north and south of the border have their “heads in the sand” about the looming reality of a united Ireland, which has become even more likely given the reinvigorated desire for the 32 counties to remain in the European Union, after the potentially calamitous effects of Brexit.
In his mission to make some real progress across the border about a united Ireland and the role of Stormont in this process, Mr Tóibín has called on SDLP’s Colum Eastwood, MLA, and Northern Sinn Fein Leader Michelle O’Neill to participate in a debate with regards to the future of the North of Ireland, in particular, making sure that sustainable “structural institutions” are built – he is yet to receive a response.
“There’s a lot of interim steps that need to be taken. I believe that the all-Ireland economy isn’t developed far enough whatsoever, the all-Ireland economy needs to be further progressed, I don’t see any of the political parties talking about that.
“Both the SDLP and Sinn Féin are only talking about resurrecting Stormont, as it previously existed and if you ask me, Stormont as it previously existed wasn’t functional. It was actually by its very nature, dysfunctional,” Mr Tóibín told this newspaper, adding that at its worse, the government was reduced to the two largest parties seeking to block each other at every single turn.
“I believe it’s actually time to move beyond those institutions in that previous state, that we need to build institutions that actually are far more robust and can’t be programmed by any dysfunctional party in the process, and ones that have a far deeper level of devolution from London, as well as greater integration with the North/South ministerial bodies, so that they have more power and there’s more parliamentary oversight in those. So, I think there’s quite a bit further we can go.