Opening address by An Taoiseach
Shared Island Dialogue: New Voices and New Generations on the Good Friday Agreement
26 November 2020
Thank you, Freya.
I want to thank everyone for making time to join online today.
This is an important first - the first Shared Island Dialogue convened by the Government to hear people’s views on a shared future on the island of Ireland, founded on the Good Friday Agreement.
It is right that we start by listening first to you - young people from across the island, who have the greatest stake and the biggest role to play in shaping the future.
Your opinions and ideas today will start an inclusive, diverse and open civic conversation through the Shared Island Dialogue series, which is central to the Government’s Shared Island initiative.
The issues and questions addressed today, and in subsequent Dialogues, will also be in focus in wider discussions in civil society, in all its diversity on the island, on our future.
Through the Shared Island Dialogues, the Government is seeking as broad a range of perspective and experience as possible. And ensuring that often underrepresented voices, North and South, including those of young people, women, new and minority communities are heard.
These Shared Island Dialogues will support the Government’s commitment to work with all communities and traditions on the island to build consensus around a shared future.
Fundamentally, our Shared Island initiative is about working together so that we build a shared future on this island that we can all be proud of.
It is about recognising that we face shared challenges on this island North and South - in our economy, environment and society - that we can most effectively address together.
And it is about being ambitious.
Ambitious about deepening our connections in all aspects of life on the island, to help us achieve a fully reconciled society in the years ahead, and unleash the unlimited potential inherent in that.
The Government will do everything that we can to support this.
We have committed €500m in capital funding through the Shared Island Fund for collaborative North/South investment over the next five years.
And we are working with the Executive in Northern Ireland and with the British Government through the framework of the Good Friday Agreement to harness the full promise of our partnerships, to support sustainable development and economic opportunity on the island, North and South.
But just like the achievement and consolidation of peace on this island, building a shared, reconciled future will require the commitment and effort of all sectors of society. It is about hearts and minds.
Collectively, we’ve made huge strides since the Good Friday Agreement was overwhelmingly endorsed by the people, North and South, in 1998.
But we must also be honest and recognise that the full potential of the Agreement - to achieve reconciliation, tolerance and mutual trust - has not yet been realised.
The Shared Island Dialogues provide a timely opportunity to reflect on that, and to look at what we need to do to complete the journey of reconciliation that we began on this island 21 years ago.
It is you, in the coming generation, that will be to the fore in providing the impetus and inspiration in society to enable us to achieve that in the years ahead.
Your generation has the opportunity and capacity to reject simplistic narratives.
You have the freedom to challenge lazy assumptions and confront prejudices around the issue of identity.
Your views, your choices and the actions that you take are fundamental to building a truly shared future.
I am deeply conscious that the pandemic this year has impacted young people, as you build your lives, in particular and very difficult ways.
And I know that the future, wherever you are on the island, may look uncertain and challenging right now, in terms of economic, social, environmental and other concerns for you.
A conversation about the future is just as much about acknowledging and engaging with people’s concerns and needs, as it is with your ideas and ambitions.
So today’s Dialogue has been shaped to engage with the issues that you have highlighted to the Shared Island unit team.
It is shaped around questions like equality of opportunity on the island; your identity and rights; your roles in civil society in shaping the future; and how we really put the Good Friday Agreement to work and fulfil its promise.
As I said in launching our Shared Island initiative last month, no future is pre-ordained under the Good Friday Agreement.
And no matter how certain anyone claims to be, the truth is that no government, no political party, and no one person or group has all the answers.
Experience has shown that open, respectful, informed civic dialogue is a vitally important part of seeking resolutions and building agreement on complex societal issues.
That’s what you’re starting today through the Shared Island Dialogues, on all of the questions, the opportunities and challenges, for our future on this island.
As Taoiseach, I will be listening carefully to you as a new generation of inspiring and innovative voices, on how collectively we work to build a shared future founded on the Good Friday Agreement.
Thank you for bringing your voice to what I sincerely hope will be an exciting, positive and open Shared Island endeavour.