Belfast Telegraph

Kelly urges Beyond Brexit organisers to invite unionist speakers

Tom Kelly
Tom Kelly
Lauren Harte

By Lauren Harte

Leading 'Remain' campaigner Tom Kelly has criticised the decision not to invite unionist politicians to speak at this weekend's Beyond Brexit conference.

The businessman, who led the NI Stronger In Europe campaign, said Saturday's event in Belfast should be inclusive of all communities.

He is urging organisers to rethink their controversial decision. The Beyond Brexit gathering is the latest initiative by Ireland's Future - a collective of Irish citizens living in the region seeking to highlight the potential impact of Brexit on their rights and livelihoods.

The movement has already sent a number of open letters outlining its concerns to Taoiseach Leo Varadkar signed by a range of prominent figures, including actors, academics, musicians, business leaders, professional athletes, entrepreneurs, lawyers, teachers and doctors.

Among the confirmed speakers at the conference at the Waterfront Hall in Belfast are Sinn Fein president Mary Lou McDonald, SDLP leader Colum Eastwood, the Republic's Education Minister Joe McHugh and Fianna Fail's deputy leader Dara Calleary.

However writing in his column in the Irish News this week, Mr Kelly hit out at the exclusion of political unionism.

He said: "The concept of having a conference to examine the far side of Brexit is admirable - the notion of it comprising solely of nationalists talking to nationalists is not. Having a collective gurn over Brexit by nationalists of various hues talking to each other actually plays into current polarisation, partisanship and paralysis in Northern Ireland politics.

"We need more compromise, more conversations across communities - not within them.

"We need a collective response to Brexit across the entire Northern Ireland community and not a partisan one.

"Brexit, especially the prospect of a hard Brexit, will affect everyone - not just nationalists. Unionists, nationalists and the non-aligned will all be affected."

The conference organisers have denied that the event is a front for a pro-united Ireland agenda and insisted that it is open for everyone to attend.

Co-organiser and Belfast-based solicitor Niall Murphy said unionist politicians had not been asked to address the audience but representatives of "civic unionism" would be participating in panel discussions.

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