Belfast Telegraph

Gerry Adams on Brexit: There's a chance to redesign the constitutional future of the island of Ireland - and we should seize it

By Gerry Adams

Last week, for only the second time since partition, nationalists and unionists and republicans in the North voted together in common cause.

The first time was in 1998, when the people of the North rejected the DUP's opposition to the Good Friday Agreement. This time, unionists, republicans and nationalists repeated that extraordinary vote and the majority of citizens in the North voted to remain within the European Union.

Sinn Féin has been, and is, opposed to many aspects of the EU - but it does not make sense for one part of our island to be inside the EU and the other outside.

The electorate in the North, from all backgrounds, shared that analysis.

We have heard a lot in recent days from the Taoiseach and the Fianna Fáil leader, championing the cause of Scotland, which also voted to remain, but we have yet to see them apply the same view to the North.

Hopefully that will change.

The post-Brexit environment poses unique challenges for Ireland, which require collective thinking and collective action.

Such challenges can only be overcome in the national interest if we think and act nationally. That means on an all-Ireland basis.

That is why, in the past 48 hours, I have written to the Irish Government, the First and Deputy First Minister and to all political party leaders, North and South, to propose the establishment of a national forum to discuss how the vote of the clear majority of citizens in the North who want to remain in the EU can be respected and defended and the unique challenges Ireland faces can be adequately addressed.

The Taoiseach, as the one around the European negotiating table, has a key role to play in facilitating such dialogue and I have asked him to meet with me and other political leaders to discuss this proposal.

A forum, similar to the New Ireland Forum and the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation, should be open to all parties on the island. It would have the clear objective of discussing the implications of Brexit and producing papers on strategies and policies that might assist in co-ordinating efforts in the time ahead.

The forum should aim to have island-wide participation and involve the Assembly parties, the Oireachtas, European Parliament and civic society.

Those who campaigned for a Leave vote should also be invited.

There is an imperative on all of those who are concerned about the consequences of the Brexit vote to work together in the time ahead.

There is a particular onus on the government to defend the Good Friday Agreement and its institutions and to work closely with the Executive to achieve maximum co-operation.

Such a forum could be invaluable in providing information both to the public and to all of those sectors of our society likely to be affected by Brexit and could also reach out to those in Scotland who voted to remain in the EU.

The post-Brexit situation will challenge us all to think and act differently and the opportunity to redesign the constitutional and political future of the island of Ireland and of Europe should not be wasted.

We can, in our collective wisdom, grasp the huge potential for significant, even historic progress.

We should seize the opportunity that difficulty challenges us all to overcome.

Irish Independent

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