Alliance Party deputy leader Stephen Farry has said that while now is not the time for a border poll on a united Ireland, the party can engage in a “civilised discussion” on the debate.
The MP for North Down told the party’s annual conference that they recognise Brexit has energised the debate around the constitutional question and calls for a border poll.
Delivering the keynote speech, Mr Farry said Alliance is not a party defined by the constitutional question.
Mr Farry stood in for party leader Naomi Long after she was diagnosed with a respiratory infection and was not able to attend.
Also want to say an enormous thank you to all the staff at the #UlsterHospital for taking such good care of me yesterday.— Naomi Long MLA (@naomi_long) March 7, 2020
The pressure under which they were working in ED was unbelievable for a Friday afternoon but they were amazing.
We are so lucky to have the #NHS.
In a tweet, Ms Long said: “Totally gutted to be missing our biggest ever party conference today.
“Unfortunately, I’ve been diagnosed with a severe respiratory infection and am on bed rest and fluids under doctor’s orders.”
Speaking at Stormont Hotel, Mr Farry said: “While there may be some members who prefer the union, and some who prefer a united Ireland and indeed many who are open to persuasion, we are not only united, but defined, by our shared commitment to make this society work, to overcome division and to build a better future.
“Given the nature of Alliance, some may suggest that this would be a particular challenge. But on the contrary, these are debates in which we can engage with confidence.
“We don’t believe that there is currently the case for a border poll, and nor are we pursuing one, but we do recognise that there is a very fluid situation and multiple active debates are under way.
“We can with confidence, and without prejudice to any outcome, engage in civilised, rational and evidence-based discussions.”
We have proven that we can win anywhere in Northern Ireland and we have drawn votes from right across the communityStephen Farry
Marking their 50th anniversary conference, Mr Farry told the annual gathering that people in Northern Ireland are moving away from traditional labels.
The party conference comes on the back of their rise in success at both local and national levels.
They gained 21 council seats last May followed by Mr Farry’s success in the Westminster elections.
Mr Farry attributed the party’s surge in support to people expressing “open, mixed and multiple identities”.
“Northern Ireland is a changing society, and changing more quickly than many appreciate,” he said.
Mr Farry said that the “old canard” of a vote for Alliance was a wasted vote has been “shattered”.
“We have proven that we can win anywhere in Northern Ireland and we have drawn votes from right across the community,” he added.
“We have proven that in a political context usually framed around the constitutional question and a clash of identities that a liberal and cross-community party cannot only survive but flourish.
“While we have broken the glass ceiling, there can be no room for complacency or sitting back on our laurels.
“We must press on to new heights and we must also recognise that we gather at a time of unprecedented challenges for Northern Ireland, combined with uncertainty within these islands, across Europe and around the globe.”
Mr Farry said that Prime Minister Boris Johnson is set to “pursue a reckless hard” Brexit.
He added: “The Brexit extremists exhibit the characteristics of revolutionaries, in this case fuelled by a libertarian ideology and wishful, delusional thinking.
“Like most revolutions, it will at some point run out of steam or destroy itself, but for now a collision course has been set with the EU with an irresponsible and workable prospectus for a future relationship.”
Mr Farry warned that the “Johnson Deal” is a harder Brexit and claimed the protocol is a front stop.
He added: “But the Protocol is part of the Withdrawal Agreement, and failure to implement it not only undermines the UK’s ability to negotiate free trade agreements but also risks leaving Northern Ireland as a ‘no man’s land’, with the Good Friday Agreement undermined and a renewed risk of the return of a hard border on this island.”