THE recent election has proved that times are indeed changing. We are long past the days of 'a Protestant state for a Protestant people' and it is important that we recognise that not only are we bigger than two communities, but also our diversity is something to be welcomed and celebrated.
Of course, this has led to increased conversations and debate regarding our constitutional future. I have voiced many times my desire for us to become a 'New Ireland' and if Brexit has taught us anything it is the importance of planning and preparation. Often when I engage in conversations regarding our future, two questions are posed to me:
1. Is it not better to concentrate on making the North of Ireland a better place to live?
2. How can you ask for a New Ireland when the polls indicate there isn't a large percentage of support?
‘The government of Ireland has an onus to prepare’ - Prof Brendan O’Leary, advocating planning for Irish unity at @IrelandsFuture meeting in Belfast (live online now).— Cathal Mac Coille (@CMacCoille) May 31, 2023
Says he’s sceptical about idea of using a citizens assembly on unity, and against a ‘premature’ referendum. pic.twitter.com/SAGij8vZWp
Firstly, I want to say that with regards to the first question – it doesn't have to be one or the other. In other words, yes, of course we should invest in our today to make our home a better place to live. However, visionary leadership requires us to also have our eye on the future. In short, good leadership prepares for the future too.
Secondly, opinion polls have shown increasing demand for change on the island of Ireland, and this is without any government taking the lead concerning a potential New Ireland. The majority of us agree that a border poll is most likely up ahead. Therefore, it is important to plan and prepare. We are blessed with the expertise on our island to help us create a vision for a New Ireland regarding healthcare, education, infrastructure, education and so on.
I know a lot of work still needs to be done, but vision must now begin to shift into reality. Friends, this is a conversation that belongs to us all. A vision for a New Ireland must always be underpinned with compassion, equality and inclusivity. We will never be complete if anyone is left behind. So let's embrace such conversations with grace and gentleness. I truly believe better days are ahead for us all.
Let's not forget the words of Augustine: 'Solvitur ambulando' – 'It is solved as we walk.' Let's keep walking and talking together, and I hope the UK and Irish governments will begin to walk this road with us.