The publication of a letter in today’s Irish News, signed by 1,000 prominent figures from across northern nationalist society, has as its primary focus ensuring that the Irish government continues to work to protect rights endangered as a result of Brexit.
The content of the letter speaks to the concerns amongst Irish citizens residing in the north about the potential impact of Brexit in a practical sense. These include matters relating to education, health, mutual recognition of qualifications, human rights and representation in the European Parliament.
Whilst many unionists share in those concerns, the reality is that the Taoiseach, as leader of the Irish government, has an obligation to represent the interests and protect the rights of Irish citizens, something he recognized in a speech last December, which is quoted in the letter.
As I wrote here on Slugger after the publication of the inaugural public letter from civic nationalism, it is the very fact that the letter was able to command the public support of such a range of civic voices that was remarkable at the time.
The response to the initial letter from within northern nationalism was extremely positive, illustrating how increasingly relaxed many in northern society are with publicly articulating a political perspective. Peace, progress and the passage of time have combined to ensure many are now comfortable declining Heaney’s advice about saying nothing.
If civic nationalism raised its voice last December, today’s letter is evidence of a rising crescendo of voices, indicating that Stormont’s suspension and the absence of local government has not dampened the appetite for political engagement apparent in the electoral turnouts in last year’s Assembly and Westminster elections.
The signatories include hundreds of prominent figures from a range of sectors, including the world of business, law, sport, education, media, the arts and health amongst other professions.
At a time when the British government, through Karen Bradley, has attempted to absolve itself of responsibility for resolving the outstanding rights issues, the letter also includes a pointed assertion blaming the British government and political unionism for the continuing deadlock at Stormont.
The letter represents an important statement of a collective sentiment that should resonate in Dublin at a critical juncture in Brexit talks, just as several Southern political parties are looking northwards with as yet tentative plans to follow Sinn Fein’s lead in becoming all-Ireland political parties.