A unionist sitting in the Irish Senate provides the kind of progressive political thinking that we need on this island
The Irish Senate has a history of electing members whose voices would otherwise not be heard in the heart of government in the Republic. Protestants, including the poet William Butler Yeats, made up one third of the senators in the first Seanad in 1922.
In more recent times the writer Sam McAughtry and peace campaigner Gordon Wilson were others who sat in this upper house of the Dail. But Ian Marshall, a former president of the Ulster Farmers' Union, is the first unionist from Northern Ireland to be elected by members of both the Seanad and the Dail.
Most remarkable of all is that he was supported by Sinn Fein for the seat. It is a pity that the republican party and elected unionists cannot show such spirit of generosity towards each other on this side of the border.
However, Mr Marshall's election comes at an opportune moment as the impending Brexit changes the political dynamic on this island. He is against Brexit and is not convinced that it will actually happen, since it is now apparent that the full implications were not known when the referendum took place.
Mr Marshall describes himself as a pragmatic unionist who is prepared to listen to the economic arguments for a united Ireland, even though he does not believe they are compelling.
While no one pretends that his election will make a huge change in north-south relations, it is important that a strong unionist voice, unfettered by party dogma, is heard in Dublin on a whole range of subjects. He will find common ground with farmers in the Republic, but he will also be able to engage on a whole range of subjects and bring a fresh perspective to them.
With emotions running high over Brexit, Irish reunification and the impasse at Stormont, it is encouraging that there can be a respectful dialogue started between opposing traditions.
We know the drawback of people sitting in silos sniping at each other.
A mature debate showing leadership would get us much further.