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'New' Irish constitution must enshrine non-violence: SDLP

By Suzanne Breen

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood has said that any new Irish constitution must state that violence will never again be used in an attempt to force a united Ireland.

He was speaking after Sinn Fein leader Michelle O'Neill said the constitution could be changed to protect the British identity of unionists.

"It is our view that such protection for unionism rather than being seen as generous concessions, should instead be seen as a given," he said.

"The SDLP has long proposed that the protections and institutions won for minorities in the Good Friday Agreement would need to remain to protect unionism in a new Ireland.

"That would mean Stormont would remain, giving both northern unionism and nationalism power in Belfast and in Dublin."

Mr Eastwood said proponents of unity must recognise that the messenger was as important as the message in their argument.

"The truth is that many from a unionist background will oppose Irish unity not on the basis of logic or self-interest but because one of its messenger's embodies unionism's memory of violence," he said. "That might well be an uncomfortable truth for Sinn Fein, but in their more honest moments they must know it to be real.

"Any proposed drafting of a new Irish constitution must begin with a prior commitment that violence will never, ever again be used as a political tactic to enforce unity upon this island.

"It would enshrine that those of us who wish to bring about the reunification of Ireland know - that it will only ever be worthwhile if unionism and the British identity find opportunity, comfort and belonging in it."

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