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Unionist left off Seanad list warns of 'disconnect with North'

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Ex-senator: Ian Marshall

Ex-senator: Ian Marshall

Ex-senator: Ian Marshall

Ian Marshall, the first Northern unionist in seven decades to be elected to the Seanad in 2018, has criticised the deafening silence from Micheál Martin's new Government following his omission from the upper chamber.

The former farmers' leader believes he was led to expect a Taoiseach's nomination to the Seanad, as an agreed candidate by the incoming government. He was shocked when his name was left off the list last weekend.

The deficit means there is no Northern unionist political voice in the Republic - potentially a strategic mistake at a time when Brexit and the pandemic emphasise the importance of island-wide ties.

"The indications I was getting was that there was cross-party support for another term, that they felt it was important. But the North got squeezed," he said yesterday.

He told the Irish Independent his treatment boosts the hard-line unionist position that his place in the Seanad was not a genuine engagement but the illusion of one.

After two productive years building links between Ireland and Northern Ireland in agri-foods, tourism, business and other areas, he said: "I know Dublin is not a cold house for unionism, it is definitely not. But this action gives oxygen to that argument.

"My concern is that this gives succour to the argument of people who said this is just tokenism having me there. Those people are saying smugly 'told you so - what did you think Dublin was going to do with you?'"

He finds the "complete silence" from the three Coalition leaders both disappointing and mystifying. And he warned there was a real risk of good work on the North being undone. He sees "a chasm and a disconnect" between the North and the Republic and opportunities missed.

"The Seanad was a platform to open doors and minds between north and south. It's a huge travesty if we drop the ball on this," said the Co Armagh dairy farmer.

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