By Dominic McGrath, PA
A Fine Gael TD has called on the Irish Government to establish a parliamentary committee on Irish unity.
Neale Richmond, a frequent contributor to debates on Brexit, said that the Irish Government must move to form an Oireachtas committee on Irish unity ahead of a possible border poll.
Mr Richmond believes that a poll on the constitutional status of Northern Ireland, provision for which was contained in the Good Friday Agreement, could be held in the next decade.
The Fine Gael TD was speaking on Wednesday evening at an event in London hosted by Ireland’s Future, a campaign group calling for greater debate on the unification of the island.
The event was also attended by SDLP MP Claire Hanna, Sinn Féin MP John Finucane and SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford, as well as Alliance Party deputy leader and MP Stephen Farry.
Mr Richmond told the event in Westminster that the Irish Government needed to prepare for the calling of a border poll.
The Government, a three-party coalition headed by Taoiseach Micheál Martin, has so far resisted calls from Sinn Féin and other campaigners for a citizens’ assembly on Irish unity.
“Brexit has fundamentally changed the tone of debate when it comes to Irish unity and the fact that this British government has chosen to pursue the hardest possible form of Brexit has put in stark context the divisions that exist across these islands,” he said.
“It is now very conceivable that a British Secretary of State for Northern Ireland could call a border poll on Irish unity within the next decade.
“It is therefore the Irish Government’s duty to ensure that we are as best prepared as possible to meet the challenge of such a referendum."
He said that an all-party committee could look at the “challenges and opportunities” that might emerge through the potential reversing of partition.
Mr Richmond also stressed that the handling of Brexit showed the need for careful preparation.
“Many people across this island, understandably, ask what would a united Ireland [would] look like and sadly many also ask and what would it cost?
“Now is the time to bring together stakeholders, experts and advocates of all positions to work through these many questions in a parliamentary setting.
“We must be realistic and recognise that discussions regarding Irish unity are becoming more widespread and as such we must be prepared to present our vision of a united Ireland, down to the nitty-gritty details, as soon as is possible.”
The call from Mr Richmond comes weeks after Sinn Féin emerged as the largest party at the Assembly election in Northern Ireland.
— Ireland's Future - Todhchaí na hÉireann (@IrelandsFuture) May 18, 2022
“There is much work to be done in terms of rebuilding relations both North/South and East/West as well as working through the challenges that continue to be presented by Brexit but that should not preclude a parallel discussion and much needed planning on the possibility of Irish unity,” he said.
“Those of us who want a united Ireland, a new Ireland, must be prepared to put in the work to present our vision to all the people of these islands.
“We can build a new Ireland, one that is united, inclusive and that is a full member of the EU.
“Brexit has shown us what happens when you ask a question with no clear outline of what the answer looks like, let’s learn from the lessons of Brexit and take a responsible path forward.”