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Most political unionists have adopted an “ostrich approach” to the prospect of a united Ireland, heard a conference in Belfast.
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The comments were made during a panel discussion organized by the pro-unity group Future of Ireland, held at Ulster Hall in Belfast.
The panel’s speakers, all coming from Protestant backgrounds, said they considered Irish unity more seriously after Brexit.
Tánaiste Leo Varadkar was also praised as being more open about the subject of Irish unity than Taoiseach Michael Martin – and asked him to convene a citizens’ assembly on Irish unity when he returned as Irish Premier the following month. went.
The audience applauded at this suggestion.
During the panel discussion, Ben Collins, former press officer for the Northern Ireland Office, told the audience that when he was growing up, he was determined not to “bomb a United Ireland”.
“Whenever we had peace, it allowed me to see things differently, and I was able to embrace my Irishness.”
Mr Collins said Brexit had made Irish unity “an urgent need” and “reiterated the fact that our views didn’t count, we weren’t taken into account”.
Regarding federalism, he said: “There is a difference between political federalism and civic federalism, I think political federalism absolutely they are adopting the strategy of ostrich head in the sand, but I think civil federalism is already attractive “
Denzil McDaniel of The Impartial Reporter said that Protestants are open to change.
“Political unionism needs to take account of the fact that there are many Protestants who now consider themselves ready for change,” he said.
Glenn Bradley, a former British Army soldier and ex-UUP official who is now an “unapologised peace process-er”, said there is an “intense debate” on constitutional change in Northern Ireland.
“The only people who can see are those who are denying that these talks are happening, and all that they can give is political federalism,” he said.
He told the crowd that his early days were full of violence. One morning in 1972 the IRA detonated a car bomb, injuring him on his way to Sunday school, causing children to call him “Stained Face”.
He said that as a teenager “I wanted to hit back. And in 1984 I joined the British Army and I had enough hatred to kill and destroy the world.
He said that revelations about historical Protestant rebellions, and learning that his great-grandfather spoke Irish fluently, were among the revelations that caused him to question the status quo.
He said: “My great-grandfather … was a UVF man, he signed the Covenant in 1912 but he spoke Irish fluently.
He said that “that type of discovery, that type of myth busting, that type of propaganda rising above” caused him to question the first-past-the-post system.
“And then the big game-changer for me happened with Brexit,” he said.
Claire Mitchell, a former lecturer at Queen’s University, argued that people in Northern Ireland needed to offer “deeper values” than constitutional positions, particularly in relation to the climate change crisis.
“I just want to live in a meaningful, stable democracy that is coping just fine, even with ecological change, that is adapting to food and energy shortages, that is welcoming climate refugees.
“I have to be honest, I don’t know whether Irish unity can do it, but I don’t see any indication at all that the UK is trying to deliver.”
Senator Frances Black, who chairs the group and hosted the event on Wednesday, described it as “a civil society organization working to prepare for constitutional change.”
“It is an accepted fact that constitutional change is underway for a number of reasons, including Brexit,” she said.
At a similar event held in Dublin last month, actor Jimmy Nesbitt said the debate about Northern Ireland’s constitutional future should be led by the people rather than politicians.
In Mr Varadkar’s address at a pro-unity event, he suggested that Northern Ireland could retain some structures in a possible scenario for a United Ireland, which prompted booing from some members of the audience.
Political unionism adopting ‘ostrich approach’ to Irish unity, conference hears
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