Sinn Féin’s Commission on the Future of Ireland has been hosting People’s Assemblies all over the island of Ireland.
The gatherings provide people to have their say on Irish Unity and the future of Ireland. All are welcome at these facilitated conversations. In recent months, Assemblies have been held in Down, Armagh, and Louth, Belfast, and Dublin.
The Armagh, Down, and Louth People’s Assembly, was chaired by Dr Conor Patterson who is currently the Chief Executive of Newry & Mourne Cooperative & Enterprise Agency, and was addressed by Uachtarán Shinn Féin Mary Lou McDonald TD.
Uachtarán Shinn Féin Mary Lou McDonald TD addressed a number of themes in her remarks including the impact of the border on the communities of Armagh, Down and Louth, as well as the significance of the Good Friday Agreement, the importance of extending welcome and partnership across the political cultures in the region and the need to recognise that our ‘shared challenge is to create a future which is warm and welcoming for everyone’.
Focusing on the work of The Commission on the Future of Ireland Conor Murphy MLA said that: “There is growing evidence from a succession of elections, academic reports and opinion polls that support for the reunification of Ireland is growing. The May local government election in the North is an example of this. That was as much a vote for Unity as it was for our local government policies and the restoration of the political institutions.
There is a constitutional obligation on the Irish government – including as a co-guarantor of the Agreement – to advance the objective of unity. That means planning now and engaging in a process of inclusive dialogue that ensures that the process of constitutional change is
democratic and seamless.
The onus is on the Irish government. They should establish a Citizen’s Assembly to begin the work of planning. Preparatory work should start now.”
The Belfast Women’s Assembly met earlier this month at the Europa Hotel. It was the first of the women’s assemblies. Over 140 women from across the wider Belfast area joined in the discussion on what a New United Ireland would mean for them.
This included women from diverse backgrounds and from different political persuasions. The significant response to this event highlights that women, young and old, want to be a part of this conversation, they want to have their say on what the future will mean for them and their families.
The event was opened by West Belfast MLA Aisling Reilly and was independently chaired by academic Eilish Rooney. Some of the main topics raised by participants were all Ireland health care, government arrangements in a New Ireland, social and economic issues, integrated education and the importance of people feeling welcome including those with a British identity.
Seanadóir Lynn Boylan gave the main address at the event. Lynn said, “There is an urgent imperative for the Irish government to establish a Citizens’ Assembly to begin the work of planning for the future.”
The meeting finished with the participants voting overwhelmingly in favour of the Irish Government establishing a Citizens’ Assembly on Irish reunification. Those in attendance clearly believe that there is a need to begin planning for constitutional change and that this should be led by the Irish Government. Watch highlights here.
The Dublin Youth Assembly met in the Communication Workers Union. There was a real sense of purpose and excitement among the young people who took part. Dermot ‘Daisy’ O’Brien, a widely respected youth worker, chaired the event and the emphasis was on engagement, conversation and the future. Huge energy was brought to the discussion by the young people.
The event was interactive throughout and included ‘Menti’ activities and writing down their hopes for the future. The themes of culture, music and identity were repeatedly cited as were equality, climate justice and the development of a rights based society. The biggest challenges identified by the participants are housing, education, mental health and education.
For some it was clearly the first time they had taken part in this kind of discussion and they enjoyed it. They were willing to share ideas and thoughts about what the future could look like.
In the words of the vice chair of the Commission, Seanadóir Lynn Boylan, “Young people have been to the forefront of major constitutional changes in our country, not least in Dublin. Young people living in Dublin today have the chance to live in a united Ireland, something that was denied to those who came before you. You have the right, and also the responsibility, to help shape that new united Ireland and make it a place we can all be proud to live in.’