Stormont, the health system, the police and the court systems “could all survive in a united Ireland,” Varadkar tells the unification event

A decentralized Stormont could continue to exist in a united Ireland under the jurisdiction of the Irish government, said Tánaiste Leo Varadkar.

The Fine Gael leader said unionists’ concerns about plans for a “new Ireland” could not be “ignored” or “wished away”.

“Our own long history has taught us that a dream imposed by force is not a dream at all,” Mr Varadkar said at the Ireland’s Future event in Dublin yesterday.

The Tánaiste said Northern Ireland could continue to have its own police and health services, courts and education systems under any proposed new constitutional arrangements – a remark that drew boos from a small selection of the audience.

The conference, which was attended by around 5,000 people, was addressed by a wide range of speakers on the possible creation of a united Ireland.

However, none of the unionist parties in Northern Ireland took part. The supra-municipal alliance party also declined an invitation to participate.

It comes like new Sunday independentToday’s t/Ireland Thinks poll shows that 61 per cent of readers in the Republic support a united Ireland, while 22 per cent don’t and 17 per cent are unsure.

However, 52 percent said they would not support a higher income tax to fund it, while 35 percent said they did and 13 percent were unsure.

When asked how they would vote if there were a referendum on a united Ireland tomorrow, 57 percent said they were in favour, 24 percent were against and 19 percent were unsure.

Calls for a Border Poll on Irish reunification have grown louder with the latest census results showing that for the first time in the country’s 100-year history there are more Catholics than Protestants in Northern Ireland.

At yesterday’s event, Mr Varadkar said there was a need to recognize that cross-community engagement in Northern Ireland and between the North and the Republic “is nowhere near where it needs to be if we are to build a new Ireland”.

“There is a clear danger that we will focus too much on a Border poll and future constitutional models and not enough on how to increase engagement, build trust and create the conditions for a convincing majority for change.

“It means accepting a more inclusive and imaginative form of association that can achieve the greatest level of democratic support, and therefore legitimacy, and has the greatest chance of success.

“We need something that can evolve and deepen over time. And we must not forget that the next step does not have to be the last word.”

Mary Lou McDonald, chairwoman of Sinn Féin, said at the conference that the Irish unity debate was “the most important conversation of our generation”.

She called on the government to set up a “citizens’ assembly” to discuss the issues involved.

“This is a time for leadership. A time for energy and action,” she said.

“Our transition must be orderly, democratic, peaceful and planned. Those trying to protect and defend the status quo are past their time.

“Make no mistake, history is happening now. The challenge is now. The moment is now.

“We are all nation builders. Ireland’s future belongs to all of us. We can achieve a new Ireland. We can fulfill the promise of a better future. Here in our time we can make Ireland a home for all.”

Actor James Nesbitt, who was the keynote speaker and described himself as a “Northern Irish Protestant”, said the conversation about Ireland’s future “needs to change”.

“I think the governance structures in the north aren’t working,” he said.

“The future direction of the North, indeed the future direction of this island, must first be in the hands of its people, not the politicians.

“Leaders in civil society, healthcare, education, the arts, industry, business and sport need to stand up and become more involved in public life to take responsibility for change, rather than just bemoaning the status quo or others Blame it on making progress and then letting policies evolve to advance the emerging vision.”

Mr Nesbitt said he was not promoting “one solution over the other” but wanted to see an “informed debate” on the problems involved.

“I think that’s what most people are now questioning – the divided nature of our society – and I think that’s key.

“I think people have evolved tremendously from where we were, but I don’t think politics has evolved that quickly and I think we need to give people alternatives to orange and green.”

The actor said he acknowledged that the discussion about a united Ireland was “difficult” for many people from his background but said it was important for everyone to participate in the debate.

“In the new context, a new language is needed,” he said. “These words, ‘United Ireland’, need to be analyzed because, taken together, these two words have such a political connotation and a connotation that is more about emotion than pragmatism.”

Ireland’s Future describes itself as a ‘civil society organisation’ which, it stresses, is not affiliated with any political party.

The Ireland’s Future group was formed in 2017 to stimulate debate on the possibility of Irish unity with yesterday’s event, their largest gathering yet. Stormont, the health system, the police and the court systems “could all survive in a united Ireland,” Varadkar tells the unification event

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