Now is precisely the time to talk about a new Ireland

Now is precisely the time to talk about a new Ireland
Everyone who has an interest in a peaceful transition to a more democratic Ireland ought to engage on unity, writes Fr Joe McVeigh

Martin Mansergh, in his recent column in The Irish Catholic, argues that this is not the time to be talking about a border poll. I totally disagree with him. The Belfast/Good Friday agreement of 1998 makes provision for the holding of a border referendum. It removed the unionist veto over any constitutional change in the status of the northern state. It is now 23 years since the signing of that international treaty. Much has changed since then. A major change occurred in 2016 when the Conservative government took the UK out of the European Union. This had major repercussions for Ireland and for the Good Friday Agreement.

The Brexit vote of 2016 put the issue of the partition of Ireland back on the political agenda. While a narrow majority in England and Wales voted to leave the EU, 55% of the citizens of the North voted to Remain.

There are three main reasons why it is important to engage in discussions about the future Ireland we want to create for future generations.

Discussions on the prospect of a unity referendum are needed now to prepare the ground for securing the referendum and ensuring that the process is properly informed. We must avoid repeating the mistake of the Brexit referendum;

The political landscape has changed since Brexit. Failure to recognise that and act is a failure of leadership;

Those who say that now is not the time because unionism will react negatively are in fact undermining the democratic provisions of the Good Friday Agreement. They are handing those who have always resisted change with a new veto. That is the antithesis of the GFA which removed the old unionist veto over constitutional change;

He or she would be a strange kind of republican or democrat who would be unwilling to engage in discussions about our future. It is time for all parties on the island of Ireland to engage in discussions about the kind of new Ireland they want to bring about. Now is the time to talk about the necessary preparation for a border poll. A civic group of concerned citizens called ‘Ireland’s Future’, which I support, have led the discussion about a new and inclusive Ireland.

Right time

Now is the right time especially in light of the Brexit debacle to be talking about the shape of the new Ireland that we hope to build. The Good Friday Agreement provides the basis for political change by peaceful means. Everyone who has an interest in a peaceful future and a peaceful transition to a more democratic Ireland ought to be engaging in the debate. Already, some unionists have shown a willingness to engage and that is to be welcomed.

Those like Martin Mansergh and the leaders of the present Dublin coalition Government who are opposed are ignoring the reality of the change that has taken place and that is taking place and the absolute need to prepare for the future through ongoing dialogue and debate.

Fr Joe McVeigh is based in St Michael’s parish, Enniskillen and Lisbellaw, Co. Fermanagh.