Do you think it’s a good thing or a bad thing that lockdown means that many of us are watching a bit more television than normal?

I’ve got Netflix, Amazon Prime and the various Sky channels in addition to the traditional terrestrial offerings, but I find there’s definitely more quantity than quality.

But there’s plenty of good stuff there, and being particularly fond of documentaries I’m intrigued by a lot of the output on American politics recently with less than a week to go to the election of the United States president. Isn’t remarkable that the most powerful democracy in the world is reduced to a choice between two 70-somethings, neither of whom inspire confidence?

The main appeal of one, “Sleepy Joe” Biden , is that he isn’t Trump. While the incumbent Donald continues on his narcissistic, bullying way to stamp all over the American reputation for decency. Whoever wins next week, America seems in a dangerous place, riven by division which is in danger of spilling over into violence.

We should know all about that in Ireland, shouldn’t we?

And while we’re focused on events across the Atlantic, there are significant events happening here at home. If your telly, your window on the world, hasn’t quite managed to bring it to your attention, the Taoiseach’s “shared island” initiative is an important issue for us all moving forward. It deserves our full attention at this critical juncture in our history.

One of the phrases we’ve heard quite often is “new Ireland” which it’s hoped the initiative can build.

A couple of programmes I watched on RTE gave me a sense of change that has already happened, that the building of a new Ireland has already started.

There were a couple of documentaries on the centenary of the death on hunger strike of Terence MacSwiney; even though the Mayor of Cork and Irish Republican icon died a hundred years ago, commentators disagreed in their analysis of him; proof that even after all this time, differing narratives and revisionism of Irish history are nothing new.

On Sunday, I watched the church service on RTE. This week it was the turn of the congregation near Dublin of Lucan and Blanchardstown Methodists, led by their Minister, the Rev Tawanda Sungai.

It was a good combination of the Protestant Irish thriving in the south, and a Minister from Zimbabwe and perhaps a very small example of what the Taoiseach, Micheal Martin called “new communities” in his speech launching the Shared Island unit last week.

Perhaps that generalisation is a little unfair to long-standing Protestant congregations in the Republic, but it made me reflect that the Ireland of 2020 has come a long way since the Ireland of MacSwiney in 1920.

Despite all its problems, Ireland has moved forward socially too; with people voting in plebiscites to introduce divorce, abortion reform and same sex marriage, providing enough evidence surely that the Unionist cry at the beginning of the last century that “Home Rule is Rome rule” is long obsolete.

While many people retain their faith, the idea of the Catholic Church having a “special position” in governing Ireland is long gone. Ireland is now a multi-cultural, multi-faith society.

Indeed, in a very interesting interview on the Shared Island podcast this week, the Rev Kyle Paisley, a Christian Minister in England and son of the Rev. Ian Paisley, said his evangelical friends often found the Republic more open to their message than the north.

I’m not trying to paint the Republic as some utopia. Despite the progress of having a member of the Traveller community as a Senator, one only has to look at Rodney Edwards report in last week’s Sunday Independent to see how society leaves the Travellers in awful conditions.

And the homelessness problem, particularly in Dublin, is shocking. This week, a young homeless mother of four children died in a tent.

But as a country, Ireland is much-changed socially and religiously, and that context should be centre-stage in considering new relationships.

In this launch speech, the Taoiseach pointed out that the country had 1.3 million people born since the Good Friday Agreement, which means that nearly a quarter of the population is under 22 years old. So a young, vibrant people who deserve better.

Having said all that, there’s no doubt that Ireland is still Irish! And many of its people retain an aspiration to re-unite the country.

This emerging new Ireland would appear to want a new relationship with Northern Ireland, as evidenced by the Taoiseach’s initiative, and Micheal Martin seems to have undergone his own journey from a traditional United Ireland stance to one in which he favours greater north-south and east-west co-operation.

Presumably this means sharing “the north”, both with Unionists and presumably with another sovereign power. Such was the pressure he was under from some within his own party, that Mr. Martin felt the need to move to reassure the doubters that he had not abandoned his desire for a united Ireland.

Whether intended or not, the softer approach will reassure Unionists and unlike their historical position, there are signs that at least some forward thinkers in that community are taking a more confident strategic position.

Former First Minister, Peter Robinson has begun writing a column for the News Letter.

Unlike one of his fellow-columnists who took to social media to describe a Sinn Fein Stormont Minister as “a Provo hag”, Mr. Robinson is rather more articulate! He suggests that Unionists should make a sustained, evidence-based case for the Union, which he says is “compelling and logical.”

Indeed, the DUP leader describes “Border poll deniers” as “complacent and dangerous” thinkers. Lord John Kilclooney agrees with him and tweeted that “a referendum is inevitable.”

I also know of senior Unionists who privately say that the way to move forward is not “wrapping ourselves in a flag” but to consider new arrangements which would share society here. And others don’t have a problem with their Irish identity, and would discuss north-south arrangements with strings attached.

A lot of internal Unionist thinking is under the radar; often because those who would be progressive face the ire of those who fear change. No wonder then, that a Fermanagh Orangeman writing on the slugger o’toole website calls for greater respect for Unionists, including respect for those within its own ranks.

This writer is always worth a read, and in his latest column points out that the framing of Unionists as the oppressor is unfair. But he is also critical of his fellow-Unionists and calls for fresh thinking. Unionism needs to reach out, he says, “we still have to live with each other.”

While there is some emerging realism within key people in Unionism, more debate is needed, and one senses that the challenges facing this community are being discussed at grass roots level among friends and families.

Against a background of the uncertainty that Brexit brings, the fracturing of the United Kingdom as Scotland and Wales increasingly consider going their own way, and the dawning realisation that an English Nationalist mentality in the Westminster Government can’t be trusted, Northern Ireland Unionists know that they need to consider their position.

In addition, the demographics here are changing, with recent polls showing both Unionists and Nationalists in a minority, more people considering themselves neither.

In addition, a LucidTalk poll this week showed that more people in the younger age groups in Northern Ireland would vote for a united Ireland. Plus next year’s census is going to be interesting.

So, Unionists need to engage in a changing Ireland to ensure their voice is heard. Building relationships for a shared society across these islands is the way forward.

An Ireland in which all cultures, traditional and new, are respected, where there are better health care arrangements, better education, a better economy and, in all, a better more confident place for our children and grandchildren going forward.

Micheal Martin has asserted that a Border poll isn’t on his radar for the next five years. Aside from the fact that he won’t be Taoiseach for five years, and that as a co-signatory of the Good Friday Agreement, the Irish Government has signed up to a process in which a Border poll isn’t in his gift, it would seem that talk of it happening isn’t going away.

The Ireland’s Future group wants one in 2023, Sinn Fein is pushing for one, and some within Fianna Fail are suggesting 2028. Peter Robinson is urging Unionists to be prepared, and Lord Kilclooney wants it “sooner rather than later.” Other Unionists, of course, are resisting it, but it seems that it will come at some point.

The question of whether to have a Border poll or not, or when it will take place, has perhaps overshadowed the moves to discuss a shared island.

Would it not be better to have the discussion of what a shared island would look like, what a new Ireland means, with everyone putting everything on the table?