Dublin's 'road map' for peaceful Irish unification derided by unionists
Unionists have denounced the first ever Irish parliamentary report on achieving Irish unity by peaceful means, although the man behind the document said he would welcome talks with them.
Senator Mark Daly told the Belfast Telegraph that he hadn't spoken to the DUP or UUP but he had consulted grassroots unionists, including former security force members, when he was researching the report.
"Their concerns about Irish unity first and foremost weren't economic. They were about protecting their British identity and concern that their land ownership rights may not be retained," he said.
"Ex-security force members also had fears about retribution against them in a united Ireland."
The Fianna Fail politician said that any road map to Irish unity must "address such concerns honestly". The report foresees the Stormont Assembly remaining in a united Ireland.
Senator Daly said it was accepted by both nationalists and unionists that a referendum on Irish unity was inevitable. The report calls for the establishment of a New Ireland Forum made up of experts to discuss the issue.
The Ulster Unionists slammed the Irish parliamentary document as "disingenuous" and a "united Ireland wish-list" while it was welcomed by Sinn Fein and the SDLP.
Brexit And The Future Of Ireland: Uniting Ireland And Its People In Peace And Prosperity was compiled by an Oireachtas cross-party committee on the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement.
It says the Irish Government must negotiate for Northern Ireland to be designated special status within the EU as well as a commitment that there will be no return to passport controls along the border.
Senator Daly claimed that pre-Brexit research indicated that Irish unity would lead to a €35.6bn increase in GDP for the entire island within eight years.
"Almost 100 years ago, it was a fact that Northern Ireland was better off economically in the UK. Current United Nations data doesn't support that," he said.
He urged the Irish Government to fight for Northern Ireland not to be "disadvantaged" by Brexit.
"If 'Richard' in Birmingham is prevented from going to study in Paris, then that is a matter for the Brexiteers. But they shouldn't be able to stop Richard in Belfast from having that opportunity," he said.
The Ulster Unionists described the report as "disingenuous" and "a united Ireland wish-list dressed up as a Brexit report". UUP MLA Steve Aiken dismissed it as "poorly researched and highly biased 'evidence' gathering".
He said: "Politicians in the Republic would be better served looking after their own domestic affairs and dealing with their own considerable European challenges rather than seeking to undermine the constitutional position of Northern Ireland.
"The Belfast Agreement is clear: Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom until its people say otherwise."
By recommending that Northern Ireland remains a part of the EU, the report undermined the Belfast Agreement and the principle of consent, Mr Aiken said.
"Any attempt to create a border up the middle of the Irish Sea is totally unacceptable, unwanted and unworkable," he added. TUV leader Jim Allister said that Dublin's "transparent republican agenda" must be rejected.
Alliance said it was "unhelpful" that the Oireachtas committee report into Brexit also discussed achieving a united Ireland.
The party's deputy leader, Stephen Farry, warned of the dangers of the call for special status for Northern Ireland being seen as a means of hastening Irish unity.
"The case for a special deal for Northern Ireland has to be built on a pragmatic response to the particular challenges posed by Brexit. It has to have cross-community support to be effective and sustainable. Any special deal must be understood as being consistent with the principle of consent," he said.
Sinn Fein Senator Niall O Donnghaile welcomed the report and urged the Irish Government to "proactively plan and prepare for the reunification of Ireland".
"On the issue of consent, the report makes clear that it supports consent but it also says that consent should not be an excuse for political inertia on the issue of ending partition and reuniting Ireland," he said.
Senator O Donnghaile called for a joint Oireachtas committee on Irish unity to be set up to "help action and scrutinise government obligations on planning for unity" within the context of the Agreement and Brexit.
SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said the report should prompt a "national discussion on unity" and "our constitutional and economic future".
The SDLP believed that Irish unity was "the biggest and best idea around", he added.
"Irish nationalism needs to get down to the kind of work undertaken by Scottish nationalists in advance of their independence referendum.
"It's time we put in the hard yards to transform our political aspiration into a cogent and compelling future for the people of this island."