Publication: Belfast Telegraph
Date: 01 April 2020
Author: Mark Bain
'The first unionist to sit in the Irish Senate has lost his seat, but Ian Marshall said he has not yet given up hope of providing a voice for unionism in Dublin.
The former president of the Ulster Farmers' Union, from Markethill, was elected to the Republic's upper chamber in 2018 after he was nominated by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar.
He sat as an independent and received support from Sinn Fein in his first election, but failed to regain his seat in last weekend's poll of TDs and 980 county councillors.
But the Senate might not have seen the last of Mr Marshall yet. There is still a possibility that he could receive one of 11 remaining nominations when the new Taoiseach is selected.
And while he said he was disappointed at missing out in the poll, losing his seat didn't come as a surprise.
"It was always an uphill task," Mr Marshall said.
"But what I needed to do was show that I was still here, committed and willing to fight for a seat.
"The important thing is that there's a huge vacuum, a huge gap of understanding between Northern Ireland and the south. The fortunate position I was in was that I was, for a time, able to fill that gap"
"Given the political upheaval caused by the general election there were a lot of former TDs fighting for seats. Add to that the bigger political parties and their tactical voting, and there was never much of a chance of me being successful on this occasion.
"But there was a huge advantage in having a unionist voice in the chamber.
"I got that chance when asked by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar to stand in a by-election. That was a completely different scenario to what I was up against this time around.
"The important thing is that there's a huge vacuum, a huge gap of understanding between Northern Ireland and the south. The fortunate position I was in was that I was, for a time, able to fill that gap.
"I think we live, work and function in Northern Ireland in a six-county bubble and our politics is focused on what happens within that, and rightly so. But what you find is that there's a lot of misunderstanding and misperception between Belfast and Dublin. A lot of things we actually hear aren't substantiated, they're myths and rumours.
"What I found in Dublin is that there's a lot of really good people. It's not the cold house for unionists some would believe.
"I think what my two years as a senator has highlighted, especially now with coronavirus, is that we can achieve so much more if we work together and that's in the absence of any threat to anyone's constitutional position or identity.
"I don't think Ireland is at all ready for unity but the reality is it's a conversation that unionists need to engage in because it shouldn't present them with any threat"
"There's huge opportunities to work together to drive a thriving economy across the island.
"And any notion that everyone in Dublin is focused on Irish unity is a misconception. There are plenty of people who support Irish unity, but there are just as many who are saying no, not at the moment. Many view it a bit like heaven, nice at some stage, just not for a while.
"I don't think Ireland is at all ready for unity but the reality is it's a conversation that unionists need to engage in because it shouldn't present them with any threat.
"My future is out of my hands for now, but while I've left the room, I haven't quite left the party yet. I'm still here at the door.
"A Taoiseach's nomination is an option and I have forged a lot of good contacts in the last two years, done a lot of good work, so I'll wait and see what happens next." '