National Conversation: “This is why in respect of Northern Ireland we need the voice of Ireland…”

At Leaders’ Questions in the Dail, Gerry Adams used his time to bring up the Taoiseach’s ‘plan’ to “bring forward about an all-Ireland forum”. An unfortunate term to use at the time since it was interpreted as a formal political proposition and easily repelled by the DUP.

But Kenny’s response today indicates that he has been doing some thinking over the summer (transcript here):

I recognise the vote of Northern Ireland, as I recognise the votes of Scotland, Wales and England. While, as I said, I did not like the result, it is a composite result from the United Kingdom. This is exactly why in respect of Northern Ireland we need the voice of Ireland.

We need the conversation as to what is going to happen in terms of agribusiness North-South, meat producers, beef producers, pork producers, industry, financial services, education and health. All of these are areas that concern us.

The primary objective for us as a Republic is to ensure our interests are foremost in our minds in any conversations that we have.

As Deputy Adams will know, there are many people in Northern Ireland entitled to Irish passports who might find themselves in a country that has withdrawn from the European Union having voted in 1998 for their freedom of movement up and down this island at will, as they have always been able to do short of when the Border was in place. [Emphasis added]

Taking it out of the direct fire of politics is the right thing to do. As the Taoiseach says “I fear that this will run for quite some time. It might not be as straightforward or as short-term as many people think”.

Taking soundings north south east and west amongst the wider Irish citizenry is a more sensible and defensible position than the idea of using it to try to (most likely unsuccessfully) subvert the collective public will of a neighbouring nation.

The prospect of a National Conversation qualifies at least in one respect of Deputy Adams pointed questioning: “Can he assure the Dáil that he has not given the DUP a veto on the establishment of an island-wide forum or island-wide consultation process?”

This evening the response from the DUP, in contrast to earlier talk about a forum, was remarkably civil and tame. As the old Proverb goes, “the longest way round is the shortest way home”.

For Ireland to tell a convincing story it must first listen carefully to the stories of its own citizens and would be citizens. Then with that in mind, choose more carefully than it has in the past as Bryan Delaney has rightly noted “be extremely vigilant about the stories we choose to tell ourselves”.