Belfast Peoples Assembly calls on Irish Government to establish a Citizen’s Assembly
Over 300 people attended Sinn Féin’s Belfast Peoples Assembly on Wednesday night in the Waterfront Studio where they discussed constitutional change and the steps needed to create a new Ireland.
At the end of the evening the independent chair Eilish Rooney of the University of Ulster asked for a show of hands on the need for the Irish government to establish a Citizen’s Assembly. The response was overwhelmingly in favour.
The conference was divided into two sessions. The first covered ‘The Economy and Communities in the New Ireland’ and the second was titled ‘A New Ireland for everyone.’
The event was opened by Declan Kearney who is the Chair of Sinn Féin’s Commission on the Future of Ireland which was responsible for organising the evening and the keynote address was delivered by First Minister designate Michelle O’Neill MLA.
Among those who made verbal contributions to the discussion were:
Seamus McGuinness - Research Professor, Economic Social Research Institute (ESRI); Ruth Taillon - 20 years experience of Cross Border issues; Glyn Roberts - Chief Executive, Retail NI; Áine Hargey - Chairperson of the Markets Development Association; David Gavigan – Businessman; Greta Gurklyte - Public Engagement Officer, Disability Action;
Professor John Barry - School of History, Anthropology, Philosophy and Politics, QUB;
Dr Raied Al-Wassan - Northern Ireland Council for Racial Equality; Maighréad Ní Chonghaile - Irish Language activist and Gaelscoil Principal; and Ben Collins - Writer & Communications Consultant.
Declan Kearney MLA explained that the series of Peoples Assemblies that are planned are about “making a positive contribution to deepening the conversation on constitutional change and Irish unity and to encourage popular grass roots participation in the conversation about our shared future. We want everyone to have their say.”
He added: “These assemblies are about inviting working people, trade unionists, business owners, community activists, women, our youth, LGBTQ people, Gaeilgeorí, academics, representatives from our new communities, and others, to come together, and have their say on the process of change.”
Sinn Féin Leas Uachtarán Michelle O’Neill MLA told those present:
“I am hopeful that we are entering a new era of change which is slowly but surely gathering pace.I believe that a growing number of people across this society are starting to re-evaluate and assess the present realities and how it is impacting all of our lives.
"People are questioning what does the future hold. What could a future outside of the Union look like, and what are the opportunities?
"It’s about identifying and discussing the many complex issues to be resolved if there is to be a real unity of Protestant, Catholic and Dissenter.
"We are here to discuss the most important political issue of this and of previous generations - the right of the people of our island to self-determination.
"We’re discussing the creation of a new Ireland, which is inclusive, rights based, democratic and based on equality. This is the challenge facing all of us… More and more people are enthused by the possibility of change and of building a new Ireland. I know that the unionist parties have a different view.
"To this point tactically they refuse to engage in this conversation. That is a mistake, because this about our shared future together on this island.
"This is all about our right to govern ourselves – all of us together. What shape that governance takes is a matter for agreement and for all of the people to decide, but one thing is for certain, the only ones who can govern in the interests of people here are ourselves. This is our home place. All of us who live here. Let’s make it a better home place for everyone.”
On a future unity referendum Michelle O’Neill said:
“The Good Friday Agreement provides for a referendum and the right to self-determination through consent. Change is underway. There is an onus on both governments to now prepare for constitutional change.
"The Irish government has a particular constitutional duty to plan and prepare for unity. Sinn Fein has consistently called on the Irish government to establish a Citizen’s Assembly. Sinn Féin doesn’t want to bounce anyone into a referendum. We want it to be preceded by inclusive discussions and informed debate. A Citizen’s Assembly therefore makes sense."
Note to Editor:
A full video of the Belfast Peoples’ Assembly – Have your Say will be posted on youtube at the weekend.
Today the party posted the remarks by First Minister designate Michelle O’Neill.
It is available at https://youtu.be/rnD1qR0_Mkg