Just hours after Sinn Fein suggested that the Republic of Ireland’s constitution could be changed, the SDLP has proposed that such a document should state that violence will never again be used in an attempt to force a united Ireland.
Sinn Fein’s Stormont leader Michelle O’Neill told a Féile an Phobail audience on Wednesday night that the constitution could be changed to explicitly protect the British identity.
News Letter columnist Alex Kane told the event the he did not think that the unionist identity could be protected in a united Ireland, to which Ms O’Neill said: “Change the constitution.” But Mr Kane said that in a united Ireland unionism would be “dead”.
Yesterday SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said that any new constitution “must begin with the commitment that violence will never, ever again be used as a ‘political tactic’ to enforce unity”.
The Foyle MLA said: “Michelle O’Neill’s comments regarding a new constitution for a New Ireland, which would protect the British identity, are in line with previous SDLP proposals.
“It is our view that such protection for unionism rather than being seen as generous concessions should instead be seen as a given.”
He added: “If we are truly serious about building a New Ireland we must face up to certain realities. In persuading unionism towards a New Ireland, those of us who passionately believe in it must consider the messenger as much as the message.
“The truth is that many from a unionist background will oppose Irish unity not on the basis of logic or self-interest but because one of its messengers embodies unionism’s memory of violence.
“That might well be an uncomfortable truth for Sinn Féin to face but in their more honest moments they must know it to be real.
“Therefore, as I have previously proposed, any proposed drafting of a new Irish constitution must begin with a prior commitment that violence will never, ever again be used as a political tactic to enforce unity upon this island.”
Mr Eastwood said that there was also a need for nationalists to provide “definition and detail” about the nature of a united Ireland if they were ever to achieve their main political goal of removing the border, adding: “That means we focus on the economy as much as we currently do on culture rights.”
Meanwhile, yesterday the UUP met Irish language lobby groups Conradh na Gaeilge and Forbairt Feirste where they “reiterated that we have no problem with the Irish language but remain unconvinced of the need for an Irish language act”.