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Fianna Fail and Fine Gael government pledge to set up 'united island' unit

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Micheal Martin and Leo Varadkar (PA)

Micheal Martin and Leo Varadkar (PA)

Micheal Martin and Leo Varadkar (PA)

Fianna Fail and Fine Gael have pledged to set up a unit to work towards consensus on a "united island" as part of their draft framework for forming a government.

The parties published the document on Wednesday, outlining their programme for government after agreeing to enter a historic coalition.

The deal was jointly agreed by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin and was backed by both parliamentary parties.

It contains a 10-point-plan "to recover, rebuild and renew Ireland after the Covid-19 emergency".

One of the points detailed in the plan is a "shared island".

Under the plan the new unit will be set up within the Department of the Taoiseach. It will "examine the political, social, economic and cultural considerations underpinning a future in which all traditions are mutually respected".

The parties stressed that they are committed to "working with all traditions on the island, to build consensus around a shared future" and that this consensus will be underpinned by the Good Friday Agreement and "by absolute respect for the principle of consent".

Under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement a border poll can be called if the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, currently Brandon Lewis, believes there is a demand for it.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said he was "happy" to learn of the proposed unit and looked forward to "engaging positively" with it.

"It has long been the view of the SDLP that in order to win a border poll, we must do the hard work of preparation. It is right that the Irish government lead those preparations," the Foyle MP said.

"Those of us who want to see constitutional change have a responsibility to engage in a positive and respectful conversation with our unionist neighbours with a view to building a New Ireland. "

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Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin (left) and SDLP leader Colum Eastwood (Niall Carson/PA)

Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin (left) and SDLP leader Colum Eastwood (Niall Carson/PA)

Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin (left) and SDLP leader Colum Eastwood (Niall Carson/PA)

UUP leader Steve Aiken welcomed the formation of a Government and said he looked forward to building stronger north-south and east-west links.

“As to speculation around the formation of a ‘united Island unit’ department of the Taoiseach, it is up to the new government to decide what it wishes to do, but our position remains that we will not be engaging in ‘single direction’ discussions, and remain convinced that the United Kingdom offers the best prospects for the future of all the people of Northern Ireland," he said.

“In any case, there is no doubt that given the current health crisis, our time will be better spent in dealing with the outcomes in both jurisdictions of the health and economic impacts of CoVID across all of these Islands and our people.’’

As part of their "shared island" approach Fianna Fail and Fine Gael promised to prioritise protection of the peace process and the all-island economy in the context of the future UK-EU Brexit Agreement.

We are committed to working with all traditions on the island, to build consensus around a shared future. Draft document between Fianna Fail and Fine Gael

Their aim is to "enhance, develop and deepen all aspects of north-south cooperation thus strengthening the all-island economy".

The parties also aim to ensure the New Decade, New Approach deal, which facilitated the return of Stormont, is implemented by investing in cross-border infrastructure such as the A5, the Narrow Water Bridge, cross-border greenway, the Ulster Canal, as well as examining high-speed cross-border rail services.

Part of the plan is to expand the British-Irish Council and the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference to strengthen north-south and east-west links.

Both parties are committed to ensuring mechanisms are introduced in Northern Ireland to deal with the legacy of the Troubles as outlined in the Stormont House Agreement.

Also detailed are plans to deepen and strengthen north-south health links as "Covid-19 has reinforced the need to protect public health for everyone on the island of Ireland".

Fianna Fail and Fine Gael also committed to continuing to mark the decade of centenaries in an "inclusive, appropriate and sensitive manner" and to implement the EU's PEACE IV Programme in full and secure PEACE Plus to succeed it.

One of the major stumbling blocks cited in opposition to Irish Unity is the Republic of Ireland's lack of a healthcare system free at the point of entry.

In the draft agreement the parties outlined their commitment to introducing a "universal healthcare service".

Other measures included in the document are a plan to tackle the Republic of Ireland's housing crisis, "a new green deal" and plans to boost the economy after the Covid-19 pandemic.

Fine Fail (37) and Fine Gael (35) currently posses 72 of the 80 seats needed to form a Government and are expected to hold talks with the Green Party, the Labour Party and the Social Democrats and also a group of Independent TDs.

If an agreement is reached Sinn Fein, who also hold 37 seats, will be entering opposition in the Dail.

The all-Ireland party has repeatedly called for a referendum on Irish unity within the next five years.

Belfast Telegraph