Chance for Taoiseach to show his Shared Island Unit is more than a talking shop

Posted By: December 15, 2020

Letters to Editor. Irish News. Belfast. Tuesday, December 15, 2020


Frank Costello and Ciaran White. Belfast


Ciaran White is a barrister and law lecturer at Ulster University while Dr. Francis Costello is a historian and former fellow of the Centre for Conflict Transformation and Social Justice at Queen’s University


The latest developments in the Brexit saga which now means that the Northern Ireland Protocol will be implemented just after January 1 given the climb down by Boris Johnson and his government from the contentious clauses of the Internal Market Bill underscores that the light of democracy must be allowed to shine.


It is all the more clear that the issue of restoration of voting rights in EU Parliamentary elections for NI residents assumes heightened importance for all Northern Ireland residents regardless of whether they hold an Irish or a British passport. Simply put, their democratic rights must be restored in the European Parliament context given the significant role whereby EU funding will continue to be allocated here for years to come on the investment, social development, and peacebuilding fronts.


Northern Ireland must have elected voices for all communities in Europe to ensure those funds are spent in the interest of all and not simply administered by an unaccountable collective of appointed bureaucrats. These key concerns are equal in importance to the substantive matters covered in the Northern Ireland Protocol for business and trade. All of these issues also have a direct bearing on the environment and the daily lives of every citizen here.


As we have continued to stress – it is well within the competence of the taoiseach to make this happen.


Having access to the European Parliament with representation for all the residents of the island of Ireland is something Micheál Martin can give effect to within the structures of the EU as noted by the president of the European Council to us in 2018 that Ireland can activate as a member state. The relevance of this to the taoiseach’s stated Shared Ireland goals for all residents of this island no matter what party or identity and regardless of creed, gender or race is clear in the here and now. It would provide an important starting point by being able to access the European Parliament together, in advancing co-operation together on common core issues like the environment, employment, and social equality for example.


As we have noted consistently to Micheál Martin and his predecessor Leo Varadkar it is well within the taoiseach’s authority to provide the leadership to make this democratic right real in Europe by championing the rights of all the residents of this island. It will give needed substance to the Shared Island Unit he has created within his own office.


While building roads and bridges on the island are indeed worthy as an objective of the Shared Island initiative the best bridge of all is the one that the taoiseach can build between all the people of this island by ensuring that the citizens of Northern Ireland continue to have access to democratic participation in the European Parliament like the rest of the island of Ireland.


What could be a better place to start and to show the naysayers that the Shared Ireland Unit is indeed more than a talk shop? Again, the examples from French territories and Cyprus alike show how these EU parliamentary voting rights can be extended to all on this island.