Wednesday, 6 November 2019
Withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union: Statements
That is a major priority for me. The outgoing Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Julian Smith, has played an important and constructive role in working with me in trying to do that. We are trying to do that, however, against a background that is nearly making it impossible. I refer to the pressures of Brexit and the polarisation that has emerged from the Brexit outcomes and negotiated solutions.
I am interested in talking to Senator Marshall and others about how we could explore civic engagement that could be more constructive than anything existing to date. My experience so far with civic engagement with an Irish Government, a British Government or political parties is that it tends to be nationalists or unionists talking to themselves. For example, when we tried to set up - and this turned out to be very successful ultimately - an all-island civic dialogue on Brexit and surrounding issues, it was unfortunate that representatives from unionism felt they could not be there. They had their reasons and we have to respect that. We need, however, to try to find a way of having engagement, not just at political party level but at business and community leaders level, where people can talk to each other and have legitimate aspirations for whatever future they want for Northern Ireland.