Belfast Telegraph

James Nesbitt wants 'new union of Ireland' as he reveals project to give voice to 'silent majority'

James Nesbitt has revealed plans for a new civic project.
James Nesbitt has revealed plans for a new civic project.

Actor James Nesbitt has said he would be in favour of a "new union of Ireland" as he revealed plans for a new initiative to create discussion on the future of Northern Ireland.

Nesbitt revealed the plans in a wide-ranging interview with the Irish Times while he was in Northern Ireland for Ulster University graduations at Coleraine this week.

The Cold Feet star talked about growing up in the Co Antrim village of Broughshane during the Troubles and admitted that he only began to see himself as Irish after moving to London to study acting at the age of 19.

A holder of both Irish and British passports Nesbitt said that he would now describe himself as "an Irishman, from the north of Ireland who in no way refutes nor shies away from my Protestant culture".

His new project 'Connected Citizens' aims to start an inclusive, non-sectarian conversation about the future of Northern Ireland and has attracted the support of Ulster University academic Professor Jim Dornan and University Secretary Eamon Mullan.

Nesbitt told the Irish Times that he envisaged the project's research would begin soon with a view to publishing a report later this year.

He said that the project had also received interest from potential donors and the US consulate.

“We want an inclusive and informed discussion about the future of the North/Northern Ireland, one free from political bias and designed to be inclusive and ambitious in its vision for the future,” the mission statement from Connected Citizens reads.

Nesbitt said that he would love to be part of change in Northern Ireland, and that people were "scunnered" after over two years of no government.

“I think it’s that people do care, but they don’t care about that, and I think that’s what will begin to flip people. It’s as if the politics has almost been taken out of Northern Ireland a wee bit," the Coleraine actor said.

James Nesbitt and Jim Dornan
James Nesbitt and Jim Dornan

"Now it’s coming back of course, as we approach the flags and all that, but I think people are much more in a place now where they are united by their despair at the fact that the government’s sat empty for 2 and a half years.”

Nesbitt told the Irish Times that he believed the current governance structures were "not working" and that the promises of the Good Friday Agreement had not been delivered upon.

He called for Northern Ireland's future to be decided by civic society, rather than politicians.

Nesbitt expressed a belief that a border poll "is going to happen at some point" and said that there was a need to commission research from independent experts on what changes to Northern Ireland could mean in practice.

“I think we have to accept that this is where Northern Ireland is and people need to be informed, rather than just having two sides saying it’s this or it’s that. People need fact-based evidence to look at,” he said.

The Bloody Sunday actor said there was a need to move away from terms like 'united Ireland'.

James Nesbitt in Bloody Sunday
James Nesbitt in Bloody Sunday

“I think one of the great challenges and actually one of the great opportunities is to start getting away from language that is incendiary," Nesbitt said.

He said that a "new union of Ireland" could appeal to Protestants.

"People from the North, of my tradition, would feel that they have their identity, that it is in no way threatened, that they have an equal voice, that they are part of a society that is progressive, inclusive, diverse," Nesbitt said.

"That they have prosperity, that they’re not marginalised, and that they can be proud to be from the north of Ireland in a new union of Ireland.”

“Among my friends, who are all boys who are Protestants, well, men, we’re all 54, they would really consider now what the notion of a new union of Ireland might look like, and I think there’s a lot of people that think that.”

Nesbitt stated that while he felt Northern Ireland was not necessarily a sectarian place "the politics here are sectarian".

“I think that’s what most people are now beginning to challenge and I think that is the key. I think it’s moved on hugely from being a sectarian place, but I don’t think the politics has moved on from being sectarian,” he said.

While the actor accepts that is plan is ambitious, he remains optimistic about its prospects.

“This isn’t born out of politics, or indeed politicians. It’s stepping outside of politics, and maybe because some of us have a profile it can carry a bit more weight, I don’t know," Nesbitt said.

"I do think there is an appetite for people to actually celebrate the many different identities that there are here. It doesn’t matter, you can call yourself Irish, or British, or both.

“It just feels that there’s been a silent majority here for far too long that actually needs a voice.”

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