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Time for Irish unity referendum is drawing near, says Mary Lou McDonald

Earlier this week, McDonald said that a ‘chaotic brexit’ is not the time to seek a united Ireland.

Image: PA Wire/PA Images

SINN FÉIN LEADER Mary Lou McDonald TD has said “an Irish Unity referendum is back at the centre of political discussion”.

She made the comment days after an interview where she commented that a “crash Brexit” would not be the time to look at a Border poll or a united Ireland.

McDonald made the remarks this afternoon during her keynote speech at the National Hunger Strike Commemoration in Castlewellan, Co Down. While there, she said that the process of building a new and united Ireland must involve a dialogue which includes unionists.

She also said that the Irish government has a responsibility to lead an informed and respectful discussion on the matter.

Speaking at the event, McDonald said that a referendum on a united Ireland is provided for in the Good Friday Agreement.

“The need for a referendum to end partition is writ large. The time for a unity Referendum is drawing near,” said the Sinn Féin leader. “It is not a question of if a unity referendum will happen but a question of when.”

“So too is the urgent need for dialogue to manage the change that is coming. That dialogue must involve unionist political leaders. Political leaders must begin practical preparations for a new, inclusive Ireland beyond partition.”

The party has previously stated that a vote on Irish unification should happen within five years but McDonald has said it should not be pushed through.

Today, she said that the Irish government in particular “has a responsibility to lead an informed, reasoned and respectful public dialogue on this issue”.

“We are entering a defining period in Irish political history,” said McDonald. “Change is coming and it must be managed, sensitively and imaginatively. A process of national reconciliation must be central to any genuine effort to unite the people of this island.”

Speaking specifically about Brexit, McDonald said:

“As Britain turns away from Europe, the appeal of being part of a new and outward-looking Ireland will, I believe, prove ever more attractive to some within the unionist community.”

British identity can and must be accommodated in a united Ireland and I believe nationalist Ireland is open to constitutional and political safeguards to ensure this.

Regarding Sinn Féin’s vision of a United Ireland, McDonald said it “will be an Ireland united and at peace with itself. It will be a successful, prosperous Ireland of opportunity for all, regardless of class, colour, religion, gender or sexual orientation.”

She said her party is committed to re-establishing the Northern Irish Executive and Assembly, which collapsed in early 2017.

“The Irish and British governments have said there will be a new round of talks in the autumn. That is welcome,” she said. “However basic rights, respect and equality cannot be disregarded, they are not bargaining chips. They are for all in society. Marriage equality, the right to inquests and language rights are for everyone. Fifty years on from the civil rights movement, sections of political unionism still resist equality and rights, but they will not succeed.”

McDonald said that it is “not sufficient” for the two governments to only call a talks process. “They must bring something to the table. They need to make clear that agreements must be implemented in full,” she said.

“The way to unlock the political process is to make clear that rights enjoyed in the rest of Ireland and across Britain will be implemented in the north.”

She said that they are dealing with a British government “that is dependent on DUP votes and sees Ireland as collateral damage in their desire to remain in office”.

“That is why we need a strong Irish government leading on these issues,” she concluded.

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