Structures are not in place for a border poll and a national dialogue is needed to ensure all voices are heard ahead of any such vote.
These were the suggestions by speakers at the MacGill summer school today.
While talk of a border poll mounts among the nationalist community North and South amid fears over Brexit, the Donegal school in Glenties heard suggestions such a move was “premature”.
Leading parties in the North currently were mired in stasis, contended SDLP MLA Claire Hanna.
They were “happy to implement power-division rather than power-sharing, flexing their competing nationalisms,” she told attendees.
There had been little integration in the North recent years, she argued, and there were societal barriers to overcome ahead of any talk of a United Ireland.
“For all that the two dominant parties have spent the last decade dividing the spoils, little meaningful North-South integration has emerged, precious little use has been made of the North-South bodies so hard fought for in the 1998 negotiations.
To me then, calls now for a border poll are like removing the scaffolding before the structures are built. Some advances have been made, in health and energy, but other highly achievable possibilities surely exist in the areas of economic development, third level education and transport.
There was a need to argue “positive alternatives” for all sides, including Unionists, said Ms Hanna, adding:
“The border poll should be the last, and not first, piece of the jigsaw,” insisted the SDLP Brexit spokesperson. She also said that it was “premature" to hold the poll.
Former vice chair of the North's policing authority Denis Bradley said that some type of mechanism was needed for nationalists.
Agreeing with Ms Hanna's call for a new type of forum, he told the school's audience:
“There is little comfort to nationalists in southern political parties telling them that a crude head count is a bad idea without offering an alternative. Something of the nature of a standing conference or forum established by the Irish Government would be a frontloading of an essential debate about future relationships on this island.
"Initially it might not attract the unionist parties, but Brexit has shown that the business and farming communities of the north are seeking an outlet for their views. Where business goes, politics is likely to follow.”