Letter: Wishing away the debate on Ireland’s future will not work

Simon Coveney speaking at Stormont in 2019.Simon Coveney speaking at Stormont in 2019.
Simon Coveney speaking at Stormont in 2019.
Your columnist Ruth Dudley Edwards stated that, at a recent symposium hosted by the Irish Government’s Shared Island Unit, Ireland’s Future called on the Irish Government to hold a citizen’s assembly on unity and this was responded to negatively by Minister Simon Coveney TD.

As the person who put the question to Minister Coveney, I wish to request that the News Letter corrects the record because that is not what I said.

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The question I put was: “Will the government consider establishing an all-island citizens assembly which would have a mandate to identify and propose areas of work, research and investment that can advance the shared island agenda?”

Letter to the editorLetter to the editor
Letter to the editor

Given that minister Coveney’s response is provided in quotes, I must assume the online recording of the meeting was accessed, therefore there is no excuse for this inaccuracy. Accuracy matters because the actual question put is a much broader question than your columnist states.

It also matters because I agree with Simon Coveney that “any assembly on the future of Ireland would have to be genuinely open”.

This sentiment has been echoed in recent days by Neale Richmond TD who stated: “Regardless of whether one supports a united Ireland or not, it cannot be denied that enhanced cooperation is to everyone’s benefit.”

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He further said that a citizen’s assembly should be established in order to shape what a new Ireland will look like, and that it should report to a parliamentary committee composed of representatives from the Assembly, Oireachtas and Westminster.

For your columnist to suggest there is no common ground between Ireland’s Future and government parties in the Republic of Ireland does a disservice to Unionism.

The political and social landscape of this island has changed dramatically in the past decade.

Civic dialogue and a citizens’ assembly have the potential to provide spaces for issues-based discussions and agreement about the future in a way that party politics can’t.

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It creates a space for Unionism and grassroots Loyalism to make a case for what it does want, rather than what it doesn’t. That is what Ireland’s Future is seeking to advance.

Pretending the debate isn’t already happening isn’t going to make it go away.

Patricia MacBride, Board member Ireland’s Future, (a group set up to consider ‘the viability of new constitutional arrangements on the Island’)

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Alistair Bushe