By James Ward, PA
Northern Ireland’s first and only female Baptist minister has called for a Citizen’s Assembly on the future of the island.
Reverend Karen Sethuraman has said Unionism cannot ignore “the rising number of voices wanting to engage in conversations regarding our future”.
Rev Sethuraman told a committee in the Dáil that a Citizen’s Assembly could provide a forum for both sides of the community to engage in.
She told the Dáil: “A citizen’s assembly extends the conversation beyond being politically-led to being people-led, providing an opportunity to cast vision, discuss and deliberate, learn and unlearn, enabling us to plan for the future.
“Most importantly, the forum would contribute to a unifying framework as a Nation of Neighbours based on common ground, common values and a common vision regarding healthcare, education, employment, economy and identity.
“I believe these are what matter to people most. Brexit is a stark reminder of the importance of carrying out the ground work before a border poll is called. The baton of peace and reconciliation has been passed on to us today.
“We have a responsibility as peacemakers to have this conversation.”
Rev Sethuraman was raised in a unionist community in East Belfast, and has spent 20 years in her ministry working on peace and reconciliation across communities.
She was speaking at the Oireachtas Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement on Tuesday.
Tomorrow I have the absolute privilege and honour of making a statement to Houses of the Oireachtas.
I will be asking for a North/South Citizen’s Assembly... A table where we can plan, discuss, deliberate etc..
Let’s together build a Nation of Neighbours.
Here we go ... https://t.co/SiycdSD1Lj
— Rev Karen Sethuraman (@KarenSethuraman) May 10, 2021
She was backed in her call by Trevor Lunn, a former member of the Alliance Party, and now an independent MLA for Lagan Valley.
Mr Lunn, the son of an Orange man, described himself as a “soft” unionist and said he is open to discussions on a united Ireland.
He told the committee: “Such a poll is not likely or desirable for a few years but the discussion has started and given the major changes now taking place across these islands, the outcome cannot be predicted despite the efforts of Unionists to play down the notion that it could go against them.”
He added: “In anticipation it is imperative that voters across the island should be well informed and there is an onus on both Governments to provide the necessary information.
“For that reason I support the demand of the organisation which I have recently joined, Ireland’s Future, for the establishment of a Citizen's Assembly on an all island basis to seek that information and provide a forum for non-political discussion about the problems and/or benefits arising from reunification.”
Mr Lunn said threats of loyalist violence should not prevent conversations on the future of the island being held.