Banbridge Ulster Unionist Councillor Glenn Barr has participated in a debate at the West Belfast Festival.
The public debate in St Mary’s College on the Falls Road in Belfast was entitled ‘One Voice, One Vote: Equal Citizenship in Ireland.’
It discussed proposals to give the right to vote in elections for the post of President of the Republic of Ireland, to citizens resident outside the jurisdiction of the Republic of Ireland.
During the debate Councillor Barr called for the Republic of Ireland to join the Commonwealth.
Councillor Barr said:
“During the debate on the merits of citizens outside the Republic being given the right to vote in elections for the President of the Republic it became clear that many people still don’t grasp the distinction between sovereignty and identity.
“The fact is that Her Majesty the Queen is Head of State in Northern Ireland and Michael D Higgins is the Head of State in the Republic.
“I am a Unionist. I live in Northern Ireland, part of the United Kingdom and whilst I genuinely wish the Republic and its people well, I am not a citizen of that state and therefore I have no desire to participate in elections relating to that state.
“I cannot help but feel that republican calls to extend the franchise for elections to the office of President of the Republic of Ireland is an attempt to mask the reality of the fact that almost 100 years on from the Easter Rising they are still part of the United Kingdom, in spite of promises made by some of their political leaders that a United Ireland was within reach.
“It is one thing to seek to extend the franchise to citizens of the Republic of Ireland who have grown up there and emigrated to seek a better life, but it is quite another thing to seek to permit people in Northern Ireland who have never lived in the Republic to be permitted to vote in elections for the President of the Republic of Ireland.
“I did suggest that the Republic of Ireland should seriously consider joining the Commonwealth because it would cement the improvement in relationships between London, Belfast and Dublin which haves been a feature of recent years, and was evident in the warm welcome which Her Majesty the Queen received on her State Visit to the Republic in 2011 and President Higgins’ State Visit to the UK last year.
“Such a move would also send a tremendous message to other countries who have undergone political upheaval and disputes and show them that ancient quarrels can be resolved and relationships mended. Many Republics including India are part of the Commonwealth and I believe that it would have a very positive impact on how Unionists view the Republic of Ireland and hold out the prospect of a genuinely shared future.”