Unionists and those who were victims of the IRA will need to be “convinced” to vote for a united Ireland, according to the SDLP leader Colum Eastwood.
Mr Eastwood was speaking on Saturday as part of an event organised in Londonderry by the non-profit unity campaigning group Ireland’s Future.
The SDLP leader acknowledged in his remarks many unionists had suffered “serious hurt and pain because of what the IRA did” and said there needs to be “truth and justice” from the IRA alongside the British Government.
He said any campaign for a united Ireland had to be “realistic” that unionists will need to be persuaded to vote in a future border poll.
“I don’t believe we can do this without dealing with the proper legacy of the past. It has to be about the future, but it does not go away,” he said.
“We have to be realistic about this. We have to convince a lot of people who don’t currently want to vote for a united Ireland to vote for it.
“We have learned that after 20 years of the Good Friday Agreement, it affects the current politics and will infect this debate in ways that I don’t think we are prepared for.
Thanks to @IrelandsFuture for coming to Derry today and continuing the conversation about the Ireland’s constitutional future.— Colum Eastwood 🇺🇦 (@columeastwood) January 22, 2022
We have work to do but I believe we’re moving towards a better future for our island and everyone in it- especially our young people. pic.twitter.com/WVfozdl4DC
“I believe in truth and justice. I want it from the British Government and I want it from the IRA as well.”
The event Mr Eastwood spoke at also included contributions from Sinn Fein’s MLA Declan Kearney and Queen’s University Professor Colin Harvey.
Ireland’s Future describe themselves as a group to advocate for and promote, debate and discussion about Ireland's future, including the potential of “new constitutional arrangements”.
Mr Eastwood said a united Ireland meant “embracing every tradition on this island”.
He also warned against nationalists expecting a boost for the chances of a united Ireland if Stormont was to be collapsed amid threats by the DUP to pull their Executive ministers.
“If there are any nationalists out there who have a sneaking regard for that or think that there might be some comfort in the idea if we don’t have Stormont we will slip magically into a united Ireland – I think we have to guard against that kind of thinking,” Mr Eastwood added.
“Our job is to prove that politics can work. I don’t want to be in a situation where we hand more power back to Boris Johnson. We need to offer a positive vision for the future.”