The Royal Hospital in Kilmainham was the venue for a series of Reconciliation Networking Forums which take place annually [amended from my mistake earlier]. The venue is now being pressed back into the purposes of north-south engagement.
Unlike those previous events, this all island civic forum on Brexit (Live Feed available here) has been much more overtly political, making almost inevitable there would be no formal representation from any unionist party.
It began this morning with a series of pitches from each of the political leaders and closed with remarks from the taoiseach who pointed out that the time available for Ireland to work out its responses may be much shorter than the March deadline already mentioned by Mrs. May.
Martin’s speech was notable for the way in which posed questions for the participants, which are worth repeating here in some detail:
The massive uncertainty and decline in sterling is already hitting business, particularly in the Border region and critical exporting sectors. For them Brexit isn’t happening in March 2018 it’s happening now.
In your opinion, what should be done to address the immediate, pre-Brexit impact on businesses and communities?
On a longer term basis we need to protect growing cooperation on the island and to protect our ability to compete in the export markets which are central to prosperity.
How can we help to transform communities and sectors and how can we help them compete?
Freedom of movement on this island, including cross-border working, education, recognition of benefits and so on are a core part of life for large numbers of people. What are the ways in which this works in practice that we have to protect?
The European Union itself has an obligation to stand by the pro-EU majority on this island. It cannot insist on business as usual in how it develops programmes, allows state supports and implements broad EU policies. The principle of helping states meet unique challenges was embedded within the Union when the single market and monetary union treaties were agreed. It must continue.
One outcome of the negotiation process has to be the development of a specific package which recognises the unique economic and social impact of Brexit on Ireland.
I have very definite views of elements of what this should involve, but how do you want it to be shaped? In what areas is flexibility required to allow us to respond to specific challenges?
And of course we have to respect the will of the majority in Northern Ireland and equally the majority in this jurisdiction which voted overwhelmingly for a political settlement which sets a shared European context for overcoming the legacy of sectarianism and violence on this island.
Finally, there was this barely disguised sideways elbow blow to the ribs of his Sinn Fein counterpart, Gerry Adams who’s own speech was devoid of any questions for the forum to consider:
No one has a right to try to abuse this situation to push other agendas. The principle of consent on political union remains central to the constitutional settlement.
However, European citizenship and the entitlements which comes with this should be protected at a minimum for all who wish to maintain it.
From the point of view of the groups and communities which you represent How can the pro-EU position of the majority in Northern Ireland best be respected? [Emphasis added]
In some respects, I don’t blame unionists for not turning up. The whole idea was horribly mis-pitched in the first place, and came accompanied with some very odd demonstrations of immature and ill-temper hubris.
But it is long past time politicians looked to turn down the hyperbole of their internal dialogues and looked for help prepare an actual and functional response that connects with ordinary people in the world outside.
RTE have the live feed, I think this one may be well worth keeping an eye on. When they finally get back from drinking their coffees. 😉