That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to enable Members of the Parliament of Britain and the north of Ireland elected in respect of any part of the north of Ireland to sit, pose questions and speak in the Dáil; and to provide for related matters.
Two and a half years ago, I had a conversation with Francie Brolly about building a new all-Ireland movement. We decided we wanted to build a common-sense movement that would help unite Ireland, North and South, and the people, North and South. We discussed the need not just to call for referendums or hold white line pickets along the road but to take practical steps towards a convergence, North and South, and incrementally erase the border in people's lives.
Francie Brolly was an Irish republican, musician, teacher and Gael. He was an MLA in Stormont for his beloved County Derry and Dungiven. He was a founding member of Aontú and a proud father. He sadly passed away just over a year ago and I proudly dedicate this Bill to Francie's memory.
The discussion on Irish unity has gathered significant pace in recent years. Brexit has convinced many in the North that London is not interested in their future. Many in the South understand that it is illogical that, 100 years after the War of Independence, the Tories still determine what happens in Ireland. Demographics are changing apace, political unionism is now in the minority and Scotland is edging towards the British departure lounge. Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael talk positively about Irish unity, but like St. Augustine, they ask the Lord to make us united but not yet.
Some within the establishment parties in the South have tried to hide behind economics but London treats the North as an economic backwater. At partition, 80% of Ireland’s industrial output was from the North, specifically the counties that surround Belfast. Belfast was the largest city in Ireland and the North was by far the richest part of Ireland. The North has been impoverished by London’s lack of interest in the 20th century in the same way the South was impoverished by that lack of interest in the 19th century. The key economic difference between the two jurisdictions is that the South can self-determine economically but London’s focus is on the English home counties.
Unity is the key to unlocking Ireland’s potential. Economies of scale, efficiencies in public service delivery, increased market size and larger EU representation are all obvious advantages. There is also the question of justice. The founders of this State recognised that there was an inherent justice in all-Ireland self-determination and independence. That justice is as real today as it was 100 years ago.
Many supporters of Fianna Fáil are heartbroken by their current leadership's desire to wear the cloths of the party's founding fathers but detach themselves from the objectives of those men and women. The political establishment continuously says there is nothing we can do and the DUP in London holds a veto but there is plenty we can do.
We can start the process of North-South service convergence now. This would save money and ensure more efficient and effective public services throughout the island of Ireland. We can create a new Ireland forum now, inviting civic and political society to the table to discuss, first, how to ameliorate the worst aspects of Brexit and then to start to discuss how to bring about convergence towards a united Ireland. Also, it is in our gift right now to allow for MPs elected in the North of Ireland to sit on all the committees in the South. There is no law stopping it. All that has to be changed is a Standing Order. I have written to you, a Cheann Comhairle, seeking that we would start the process of changing Standing Orders to allow MPs elected in the North of Ireland to participate in all the committees in the South.
It is also in our gift to allow Irish citizens in the North of Ireland, who are MPs, to attend the Dáil. We should think about that. There is no impediment on this Dáil to, in large part, realise the objectives of the First Dáil peacefully and without any cost. Why are we not doing it? If there is nothing stopping us taking that step, why is this Dáil refusing to do it? This Aontú Bill simply enables MPs elected to constituencies in the North of Ireland to sit, pose questions and speak in the Dáil on the same terms and subject to the same conditions as any other Member of the Dáil. It does not go as far as seeking voting rights for those MPs, because that may be a bridge too far for the Government currently, but it does go a long way in allowing for MPs in the North of Ireland to be able to represent Irish people in the North of Ireland in an Irish Parliament. Some day, we in Aontú want to see Deputies from west Tyrone, west Belfast, Newry and Armagh attend this Dáil but, in the interim, let us start the process where we can, where it is fully legal, where it costs nothing and where it is peaceful, to bring Ireland together North and South.