Micheál Martin's 'shared island' pledge a 'farce'

Publication: BBC News NI

Date: 28 June 2020

Author: Enda McClafferty

ORIGINAL ARTICLE


The newly-formed Irish government has been accused of letting down the unionist community in Northern Ireland.

Ian Marshall, who in 2018 became the first unionist elected to the Seanad (Irish Senate), dismissed a commitment to a "shared island" as a "farce".


Mr Marshall said he is "astonished" at the failure to nominate any member of the unionist community to the Republic of Ireland's upper chamber.


The Irish government has been asked for a response to Mr Marshall's criticism.


The 11 extra seats were filled by nominations on Saturday.


They were taken by representatives from the three new parties of government Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Green Party, as well as Eileen Flynn, a Travellers' rights activist.


"This a huge missed opportunity and sends a very clear message to the unionist community that they have no role play down south," said Mr Marshall.

"How can you have a shared island if you only talk to yourself?


"The three party leaders all talked about change and renewal and yet they turn their backs on unionists and any talk of a shared island is just a farce."


Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin was elected taoiseach (Irish prime minister) on Saturday.


He now leads a three-party coalition government consisting of Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Green Party.


Mr Marshall served two years in the Seanad after being nominated by the former Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar.


He sat as an independent and received support from Sinn Féin in his first election but he lost his seat in the election earlier this year.


"This is not about me," he said.


"For two years I was there representing the unionist voices, trying to build bridges at a time when relations were strained because of Brexit.


"I had hoped the parties would have recognised the real need to have that voice in the chamber but sadly not.


"In fact, there were no nominations from Northern Ireland which is a real backward step at a time of great political flux.


"For all their faults, at least the parties at Stormont are trying to make progress but it seem that is not the case when it comes to politicians in the Republic where they are happy to pay lip service to a shared island.


"I am very worried about the message that this sends out to the unionist community."


It is not just unionists who have criticised the taoiseach's selection - several people from Northern Ireland have pointed out that there are no nominees from that side of the Irish border.


Sinn Féin Senator Niall Ó Donnghaile, from Belfast, expressed his "disappointment and frustration" on Twitter over the lack of northern representation.


"So much for "the Republican Party", so much for "the United Ireland party" and so much for the Greens actually supposed to be an all-Ireland party!" he tweeted.


His party leader Mary Lou McDonald also expressed her disappointment.


"I think it's important that northern society is represented within the Oireachtas [the Irish Parliament] and I think it's also important that unionist voices - people from the unionist tradition - are also heard, so yes, that's a disappointment," she told the BBC's Sunday Politics.


There are nine women among the 11 senators nominated to the Seanad. The list includes:

  • Mary Fitzpatrick

  • Lorraine Clifford Lee

  • Erin McGreehan

  • Timmy Dooley

  • Regina Doherty

  • Aisling Dolan

  • Emer Currie

  • Mary Seery Kearney

  • Vincent P Martin

  • Róisín Garvey

  • Eileen Flynn

Fine Gael's Regina Doherty, who served a minister for social protection in the last government, was named as the new Leader of the Seanad.


Its first meeting will be held on Monday 29 June.