All the world’s a stage - Labour Party Leader Brendan Howlin centre stage at the Droichead Theatre with the other speakers at Saturday’s seminar (from left) Cllr. Paul Bell; Professor Yvonne Galligan, OBE (Queens University, Belfast); Cllr. Deirdre Kingston; Colin McGrath (SDLP MLA); Brendan Howlin TD; Ethel Buckley, Deputy General Secretary of SIPTU; Dominic Hannigan and Senator Ged Nash.
Labour Party Leader Brendan Howlin was in Drogheda on Saturday morning to deliver a keynote speech at a seminar commemorating the 50th anniversary of the civil rights movement in Northern Ireland.
During his speech Mr. Howlin outlined his views on the future of our island saying that before any border poll is held, a New Ireland forum should be held to consider what unification would actually mean.
"The possibility of a hard Brexit, with the UK crashing out of the EU with no deal, could change everything” Deputy Howlin said, adding: “any certainty about Northern Ireland’s constitutional future in our lifetimes is gone.
“But there is no solution and much risk in the idea of a border poll won by only a handful of votes” he warned. “That would be a recipe for a deepening of social division and potentially a renewal of violence.
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"The problem with the DUP and Sinn Féin, in many respects, is not that they are too different to work together, but that they are too similar. They are both identitarian parties, but they represent rival identities that are not compatible. The solution cannot be for one identity to triumph over the other.
"Which is why there is a pressing need for an alternative to identitarian politics. And the alternative to focusing on tribal identity is to focus on fulfilling people’s civil and economic rights. If everyone can be assured that their rights are secure, they can be secure in their multiple identities, even as minorities.
"We need to find agreement now, well in advance, about who should be sitting around the table to negotiate if ever there was a vote for a reunited Ireland. So my proposition is simple. Let’s talk…
"Obsession with a border poll is divisive and unhelpful. It is also rooted in a narrow and backwards looking view of Ireland, based on tribal identities. People’s energy would be better spent on re-establishing the institutions of the Agreement.
"I want to propose a formal meeting of all willing political parties, in a revised New Ireland Forum, to discuss what Peter Robinson has suggested: How would we handle a border poll in favour of unification?
"A New Ireland Forum should also challenge ourselves to contemplate what unification with the people of Northern Ireland would actually mean.
"Our vision is for every person on this island to have their rights vindicated, to have their material conditions improved, and to have a political system that is fully responsive to their needs and their identities."
Senator Ged Nash, who organised and also spoke at the seminar, told Drogheda Life that it was a well-attended event with excellent debate on the civil rights movement and the fight to make Ireland a more equal and tolerant society.
"Labour has been in the vanguard in terms of making Ireland a more open, inclusive and secular republic, campaigning and delivering on marriage equality, trade union rights, equal pay, choice in education and abortion rights when these issues were neither popular or politically profitable.
"I used the opportunity on Saturday in Drogheda to set out our vision for the realisation of a secular and pluralist republic involving the separation of Church & State, diversity and choice in terms of education, the full realisation of trade union and collective bargaining rights, bringing an end to the unacceptable gender pay gap and other policy and societal challenges that need to be addressed over the next short period of time."