Citizens’ assembly needed on Ireland’s future

Posted By: July 21, 2021


John Manley. Irish News. Belfast. Wednesday, July 2, 2021.


Colum Eastwood believes the Dublin government should establish a citizens’ assembly to discuss Ireland’s constitutional future.


The SDLP leader, right, told The Irish News that the initiative, which has so far met with resistance from Taoiseach Micheál Martin, should happen in the current mandate.


The Foyle MP’s support for a citizens’ assembly to discuss the potential for a united Ireland reflects growing support for a public conversation about constitutional change.


In recent months, thousands of GAA members from northern counties have written to the taoiseach urging him to kickstart conversations about an “agreed shared Ireland”.


The open letter to Mr. Martin was signed by gaels in Antrim, Fermanagh, Derry, Armagh and Tyrone.


Mr. Eastwood praised the taoiseach’s Shared Island Unit, which has seen hundreds of millions of euros pledged to cross-border projects.


However, while the SDLP leader believes the unit will be a “very important foundational block” in preparing for a referendum, he argues that planning for the possibility of a border poll needs to go further.


“If you look at what happened around some other difficult issues in the south that the politicians didn’t grapple with because they thought the public was in one place when they were in a totally another place,” he said.


“I think the public is very good at dealing with this kind of thing. I’m absolutely in favor of a citizens’ assembly and lots of other models of civic engagement that we could roll in – and do it now.”


But he cautioned against agitating for a border poll in the short term, arguing that support for a citizen’s assembly “doesn’t mean the border poll is going to be next week”.


Irish News columnist and Ireland’s Future board member Brian Feeney welcomed the SDLP leader’s comments.


“He’s finally jumped on the bandwagon which has been the nationalist zeitgeist since the disastrous Brexit vote and its impact on the north,” he said.


“That was demonstrated decisively in the 2,000-strong Waterfront Hall rally Ireland’s Future


organized in 2019, in which the SDLP leader took part.”