Unionists have questioned the motives of those organising a major Brexit conference in Belfast after they decided to only invite nationalist and republican politicians to speak at the event.
Beyond Brexit, which is due to take place at the Waterfront Hall on January 26, is the latest initiative of Ireland’s Future – a collective of Irish citizens living in Northern Ireland who say they want to highlight the potential impact of Brexit on their rights and livelihoods.
Speakers at the event will include Sinn Fein president Mary Lou McDonald, SDLP leader Colum Eastwood and senior members of Fine Gael and Fianna Fail. But no unionist politicians have been invited – a move the organisers claim is designed to rebalance the “misrepresentation” of public opinion here.
At a launch event in Belfast yesterday, co-organiser Niall Murphy said representatives of “civic unionism” would be participating in panel discussions and insisted the conference was open for everyone to attend.
“Political unionism has set its face against rights, against progressive, inclusive politics and has misrepresented the outcome of the referendum. This jurisdiction voted to remain and that is not being appropriately represented,” the Belfast-based solicitor said.
Mr Murphy, who launched the event alongside political commentator Brian Feeney, denied the movement is a front for a pro-united Ireland agenda.
But UUP chief whip Steve Aiken MLA, who voted remain in the referendum, has questioned the motives of those behind the event.
“The refusal of the organisers to invite unionist politicians is indicative that they have a pre-ordained agenda. It is disappointing that they have closed minds on an issue which will affect all of our people, unionist and nationalist alike,” he said.
“Whether they like it or not, they will have to share this piece of land with their unionist neighbours, but that obviously doesn’t fit with their narrative. It doesn’t hold out much hope for the future if that’s their mindset.”
A TUV spokesperson said “all fair minded people” would see the conference as “a nationalist event designed to promote a nationalist agenda”.
But stressing that “political unionism has now adopted a pro-Brexit position”, the organisers of the conference insist they are “encouraging all sections of opinion which are committed to a rights-based society and shared future to participate in the event.”