News & Media

Forum on Ireland’s Shared Future needed

19 March 2019

Statement by Brendan Howlin TD
Party Leader and Spokesperson on Foreign Affairs and Northern Ireland

Speaking in reaction to the vulgar sectarianism of Sinn Féin leader, Mary Lou McDonald, the leader of the Labour Party, Brendan Howlin TD, repeated his call for a Forum on Ireland’s Shared Future, to bring all sides together in an open discussion about what an agreed Ireland might look like.

Deputy Howlin said: “Sinn Féin have failed on their own terms. For their leader to walk behind a sectarian sign in New York shows a lack of sincerity when it comes to their claims about how British identity can be accommodated in their vision of a united Ireland. On the contrary, not only must we reject sectarianism but we should recognise that an agreed Ireland is not about Irish identity accommodating British identity, as that presupposes one set of people being superior to another. An agreed Ireland must be a blend of all identities on this island.

“An agreed Ireland must be about every person on the island of Ireland having an input into the kind of country that could exist if we decided to focus on that which unites us rather than that which divides us. An all-island economy makes sense for obvious geographical reasons. All-island membership of the European Union offers great opportunities to all.

“But before we can develop the potential of an all-island perspective, we have to have genuinely open conversations and dialogue. This should not be between ‘nationalism’ and ‘unionism’ as supposedly monolithic political traditions. That is the stale politics that has failed to deliver for many people in Northern Ireland. Instead, we need to recognise that there are many different perspectives to be included: trade unionists, business people, civil society groups and ordinary citizens from all walks of life. There are different nationalisms and unionisms in Northern Ireland, and no political party on either side can speak for the diversity of ideas that exist. Northern Ireland’s political parties do have an important part to play, but they do not have a monopoly. People are well capable of speaking for themselves.

“We should seek to re-establish a Forum on Ireland’s Shared Future as a way of allowing all sides to have their say, without any preconditions or suppositions. Participation in such a forum would not presuppose any desire for a united Ireland. However, it is important that we hear the hopes and concerns of those who wish to remain in the UK, especially if a united Ireland may occur in the coming years as the composition of the Northern Ireland population changes, and as Brexit risks harming the economy and future prospects of Northern Ireland.

“Labour’s message to the people of Northern Ireland is clear: we are more concerned with improving the living standards of working people than we are about what flag flies over City Hall. We do recognise that an all-island economy and society makes logical sense, but we are fully committed to the principle of consent in the Belfast Good Friday Agreement. Our call is for an all-island Forum on Ireland’s Shared Future to be established to allow new voices and new ideas about an agreed Ireland to be heard.”