Two very different leaders call for a dumping of old ways to bring a more inclusive Northern Ireland into being…

I don’t usually post at weekends, but the chatter about Jeffrey Donaldson’s interview on TalkBack in which he talked about “unionism shaping political change going forward”, combined with Micheál Martin’s remarks to the Alliance Party there is definitely something interesting afoot.

The Donaldson piece is not a fade or tactical manoeuvre, although Kevin Meagher made a good point yesterday on Nolan when we were both on together, that Donaldson’s rhetoric repeated a note of reconciliation from Robinson in 2011 (and even further back in 2006).

The BelTel reports:

Addressing his party members in Newry and Armagh on Wednesday night, Sir Jeffrey said that Northern Ireland’s future did not lie with “a court or Parliament, it rests in the hands of our children and grandchildren: they will determine the Union’s longevity”.

Sir Jeffrey said that while some in unionism focussed on “seeking out heretics”, he was “in the business of winning converts and growing support” for the Union.

Compare that with Robinson’s words in 2006 in New York, “winning elections isn’t just about getting more seats than our opponents, it’s about getting a mandate to shape the future.” Unfortunately Robinson was mugged by reality as he tried to make his way to that future.

Nearly twenty years on a few political muggings later Donaldson’s offer is clearer and a lot more forthright:

To be Northern Irish and British is not at all a mutually exclusive thing.  The Northern Ireland of 2024 is made up of people who are British, Irish, Northern Irish and some emerging identities who don’t sit within any of the above.

As unionists, our vision for a Northern Ireland that works for everyone is one that embraces all of these identities. These people live, work and raise their families here because it’s their home. They must be able to feel at home whether in their Britishness, their Irishness or something in between.

Meanwhile, the Fianna Fáil leader addressed the conference of their ALDE partners (no doubt now a warming space after the SDLP renounced their joint policy platform with FF), Alliance in terms that were not a thousand miles removed from the tone if not the substance of the DUP leader…

…the voice of your voters, their vision, and their identity, is just as relevant, just as fundamental, to the future of this place as anyone else’s. It cannot be seen through the lens of a previous time, nor can it be dismissed or downgraded as ‘other’.

The Good Friday Agreement was at its heart about inclusiveness, ‘of all the people in the diversity of their identities and traditions’.

That vision has to encompass the reality of today’s Northern Ireland. Every person has to count just as much as anyone else.

The message from both is consistent: change must happen, it must include all the people of Northern Ireland and it must come without preconditions about the constitutional future, but rather let time and the work needed to shape that future be the healer be the change we all need.

The more natural the departure, the more convivial arrival (after Kellden)…

…people will just have to be tolerant if it’s not possible to bring it any further.

-Bertie Ahern, 2008

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