Sights and sounds of centenary celebrations have established themselves in our daily lives. Add to that a renewed consciousness of the ideas and politics of the Easter Rising, with young people increasingly mindful of societal realities inherited by this generation.

2016 creates space to take stock and re-examine the type of island we want our young people to grow up in, and ultimately shape.

2015 was a year of great achievement for Ireland’s LGBT+ community and allies. On the eve of the centenary, activists who worked tirelessly to ensure the passing of marriage equality must have paused to reflect on their success with pride, an affirmation that the Irish people respect and value diversity.

Like the referendum, this centenary year presents an opportunity to again reflect on the elements that divide us. Inequality, racism, sectarianism, homophobia and sexism continue to blight our society and all form barriers to the achievement of a modern, progressive Ireland – an Ireland of political progress and lasting peace.

As we reflect on society’s divisive elements and build towards a prosperous and equal Ireland, a social imperative to campaign for unification becomes clear. In a modern society, the border creates an unnecessary division between our people, representing a lack of vision for the place in which we live and love.

A new debate is needed, focussed on a pathway for a population of just 6.4 million people. While difference exists amongst us, fronting a backdrop of peace, an exciting opportunity exists to place enormous value on that diversity.

A new, united Ireland would be all of ours to call home and enshrine and offer the utmost protection to all of our traditions and identities. In May, the message resonating from count centres across this state in favour of civil marriage equality redefined what it meant to be Irish. That Irishness is open to include those on this island who identify as British, because after generations, it is not only fair to identify as such, but honourable also.

My boyfriend and I regularly spend time in Belfast, a place we have a great affection towards. As a gay couple, we both feel a very real sense of belonging there, despite legislation unreflective of public opinion held on the issue of LGBT+ equality. Belfast’s ethnic mix, youth subcultures, gay scene, republican, unionist and religious traditions all make up a vibrant place, rivalling any European city.

It shares similarities with London and Dublin, and holds its own unique and beautiful form of identity, uncommon to any other part of this island. That cultural mix of identity, race, gender, sexuality, religion and politics living side by side almost mirror the potential for our island.

In many ways, the border creates a psychological division between us, creating a sense of imbalance. On a human level, we can all be accused of allowing insularity affect our curiosity and awareness in the cultures, ideas and peoples of both states. Unity presents opportunities to energise this island, to find new ways of approaching ideas together, and the possibilities are unlimited.

Referenda on Irish unity should be held in the lifetime of the next Dáil and Northern Assembly. The Good Friday Agreement presented the people of this island with the ownership of unification. Nobody should presume the people’s view – to do so prior to meaningful debate is dismissive and insensitive. The will of the people can only be gauged by an island wide debate and referendum on Irish unity.

Those who dismiss debate on the basis of timing give little credit to the ability of our people to open an honest, mature discussion, carried with the utmost of respect. The referendum for Scottish independence was a shining example of positive democracy in action and proved public dialogue and debate to be healthy for society.

We should be more confident than ever in the prospect of unification, because therein lies the imagination to envisage an Ireland that best cherishes the diversity of all of its residents.

10.02.2016