From my conversations with people in my business in the North, I detect among civic unionism and nationalism, each of which is diverse - it is not fair to say anyone speaks for it; I would not agree with Deputy Mary Lou McDonald's claim to speak for civic nationalism because I do not think that is correct - and also among what I call the Agreement generation, people who were born after 1998 or who were too young to vote in 1998, a huge sense of frustration that the institutions are not working and that even when they were up and running, they were not really working in the view of civic society in the North. At least, that is my impression. There is huge frustration with all of the political parties in the North and a real sense that they are just not doing the people's business. It is so striking to see and I would not be surprised if we were to see falling turnouts at elections and so on into the future as a consequence unless there is some change.
What I intend to do more and more in my engagement in Northern Ireland is to talk more and more to civic groups, business, farmers, trade unions, campaign groups and also, in particular, younger people, the Agreement generation to which I referred. In that sense, I have some sympathy for Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett's analysis that there are a lot of issues in Northern Ireland that transcend unionism and nationalism, orange and green. As I said last week in the United States, in the Library of Congress, it is my strong view that any right or freedom an Irish citizen has in Ireland or a British citizen has in Britain should also apply to British cand Irish citizens in Northern Ireland. Such rights include marriage equality and the recognition of native languages, as well as others. When I spoke in the Library of Congress, I set out what I thought should be the plan, that, after Easter, the two Governments - the UK and Irish Governments - should come together again to agree a joint paper or proposal, on foot of which they should have all-party talks. However, I am a realist, in that it is the case that the DUP represents a clear majority of unionist voters, while Sinn Féin represents 70% of nationalist voters. Therefore, there can be no agreement unless there is an agreement between these two parties. That is just the way the numbers stand. There is no meeting of minds with the British Government on this issue. The Tánaiste when speaking to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and I in my last telephone conversation with the Prime Minister, Mrs. Theresa May - I am not sure whether it was in the last three or four weeks, but it was recently enough - suggested the BIIGC be convened. While there has been no formal refusal from the UK Government, it certainly has not committed to doing so, which is a disappointment.
The political context is different - it is not the same as it has been for the past 30 years - and it is different for two very big reasons, the first of which is Brexit which has changed the climate and the weather around all of this issue, while the second is the UK Government has a confidence and supply agreement with the DUP at Westminster which does change the context. That is the reality of what we face, but by no means are we going to give up. We will keep pressing these issues. That is our solemn role as co-guarantor of the Good Friday Agreement.
On the civic forum, I have not given it much consideration, but I will give it consideration and certainly speak to the Tánaiste about it and seek his views.