'Historic day' as first unionist in Irish Senate gives maiden speech
The first unionist elected to the Irish Senate has said "the time is right" for his new role, which will present both challenges and opportunities.
Ian Marshall, a former president of the Ulster Farmers' Union, yesterday delivered his maiden speech.
"This is a truly historic day for this house and for myself as the first Northern unionist to be elected to the Seanad, to represent the views and opinions of the people of Northern Ireland and to give their perspective," he said.
"This position carries with it significant responsibility, many challenges, but presents countless opportunities for all concerned.
"The time is right, and public opinion supports this across Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland."
Mr Marshall pledged to try to "add to discussion and debate, and to offer a different perspective".
He said: "Most importantly, I will listen and learn. I will offer my opinion and will respectfully challenge the discussion.
"My biggest strength is my passion for my work and the industry and country I represent. My biggest weakness is my passion for my work and the industry and country I represent."
Mr Marshall voiced his support for the Good Friday Agreement.
"Thanks to strong leadership in 1998, vision and an appetite to deliver, my children and all the children are growing up in a peaceful, progressive, shared society, cognisant of cultures, working together for tomorrow," he commented.
Mr Marshall singled out recent remarks by his Co Armagh neighbour, former SDLP deputy leader Seamus Mallon.
"He talked of identity in Northern Ireland, whether British or Irish, and the continual struggle of those laying claim to the title or label placed upon the six counties.
"Making reference to competing cultural claims on the land, he said: 'I don't care what they call the land, as long as they all call it home'.
"A truly Heaneyesque quotation, and he was correct, because for all of us, irrespective of culture, it is home."
Mr Marshall said that whether a person considered themselves "Irish or British, both or neither", they should feel comfortable in Northern Ireland.
An opponent of Brexit, he admitted the EU wasn't perfect but insisted that leaving it was "a profound mistake" and observed that, often in life, "you don't know what you've got until it's gone".
He added: "Northern Ireland has a silent majority and there are only a few things we know about them. They're silent and they are the majority, and they cannot be ignored. Their fears and concerns must be addressed and their questions answered."
Mr Marshall thanked Taoiseach Leo Varadkar for nominating him, and TDs and Senators for backing him.
Sinn Fein was among those which supported the unionist candidate. Party president Mary Lou McDonald last week said: "Ian is a unionist. I am an Irish republican.
"As I have stated repeatedly, the Ireland I want to see is one where one can comfortably be Irish or British, both or neither. I believe Ian can bring a new and interesting voice to the discussion surrounding a 'new Ireland'."