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'Significant' event to discuss a united Ireland

BBC News logo BBC News 10/1/2022
Tánaiste Leo Varadkar will give a keynote address on Saturday while the leaders of Sinn Féin and the SDLP are also due to attend © BBC Sport Tánaiste Leo Varadkar will give a keynote address on Saturday while the leaders of Sinn Féin and the SDLP are also due to attend

Thousands of people are due to attend a conference in Dublin on Saturday to discuss planning for a united Ireland.

The event, to be held at the 3Arena, will hear from a range of politicians, members of civic society and business representatives.

Organisers say the conference is the "most significant and important" event to discuss a united Ireland.

Ireland's Future was formed to "advocate for, and promote, debate and discussion" about Ireland's future.

It has held a number of events since it was formed in 2019, including its first event at the Waterfront Hall in Belfast.

The leaders of Sinn Féin and the SDLP will be joined by senior figures from all of the main political parties in the Republic of Ireland.

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar, who is due to become taoiseach in December, will give a keynote address.

Irish Times journalist Justine McCarthy says the attendance of so many political big hitters gives the event "a stamp of plausibility and heralds a new chapter in what some see as the pre-poll climate".

"This certainly suggests there is an acceptance among many politicians who will be in power in the future that a border poll is inevitable," she said.

Andree Murphy, one of the organisers of the event, says it is unprecedented © BBC Andree Murphy, one of the organisers of the event, says it is unprecedented

A number of people from non-political backgrounds are due to attend the event, including actors Jimmy Nesbitt and Colm Meaney.

"For the first time we're seeing voices that we haven't really heard before in the constitutional debate," says Andree Murphy, one of the event organisers.

"People who are involved in different aspects of society, engaged in this conversation in a very different way to anything that's happened before. It's unprecedented, really."

The Alliance Party in Northern Ireland is the only non-unionist party on the island that will not be represented.

The party declined an invite, saying it did not feel it was appropriate for it to attend what it called, a "rally for a united Ireland".

Border poll

Under the Good Friday Agreement, the power to hold a border poll rests solely with the Northern Ireland secretary.

He is legally bound to call one if "it appears likely" that a majority of people in Northern Ireland wish to leave the UK and join a united Ireland.

This week the Northern Ireland Office said there was no clear basis to suggest a majority of people in Northern Ireland wish to separate from the United Kingdom.

Fianna Fail's Jim O'Callaghan is due to speak at the event.

"It's perfectly acceptable to seek to have, as a political objective, the reunification of both jurisdictions on the island," he said.

"There has to be an appreciation that this is a political issue, and like all political issues it should be discussed and decided through debate and ultimately a vote.

"It's very important we are respectful when we are discussing the issue."

Prof Pete Shirlow says he believes the event is a "bit of proclamation" © BBC Prof Pete Shirlow says he believes the event is a "bit of proclamation"

Organisers say they have sold thousands of tickets for the event but are not in a position to give an exact number.

There has been criticism that the event will be only be addressed and attended by nationalist politicians.

"I don't think the event is actually about a conversation. I think the event is a bit of proclamation," says Prof Pete Shirlow, from the University of Liverpool.

Former Irish Labour Party senator Máiría Cahill says discussions about unity risk alienating unionists.

"The danger around things like this is there seems to be a hardening or a toxicity around this conversation, that unity is inevitable, that unionists are going to have to get used to it," she says.

Máiría Cahill says mistakes of the past should not be repeated © BBC Máiría Cahill says mistakes of the past should not be repeated

"That they will be effectively shoehorned into a country that they don't want to be in.

"We have to be very careful not to repeat the mistakes of the past."

Ms Cahill has questions about the group's funding and revenue.

"I would like the group to be fully transparent around who its donors are, if there is a particular funding stream coming from Irish America, and whether that money then has an influence as to what type of events that people are able to put on," she says.

Ireland's Future says it received no public funding and no political party funds the organisation that relies on patrons and donors.

"Ireland's Future is a totally open and transparent organisation and observes best practice in relation to financial matters and adheres to all regulatory norms," says the organisation.

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