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Mary Lou McDonald speaking to the National Press Club of Australia in Canberra today.
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McDonald to Irish in Australia: 'You feel robbed of a life in Ireland, you've been badly let down'

McDonald said a referendum on Irish unity will take place in this decade.

SINN FÉIN LEADER Mary Lou McDonald has appealed to the Irish diaspora in Australia to come home during her whistle stop tour of Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra.

Addressing the National Press Club of Australia in Canberra, McDonald made a direct appeal for Irish people living and working in Australia to return and “be part of a new Ireland that we must build”.

McDonald also said a referendum on Irish unity will take place in this decade, stating that we are in “the end of days of partition”.

“So we must prepare. Both governments have a responsibility to prepare. The Irish government in particular has a duty to change from bystanders into persuaders for unity. The people of Ireland are ready,” said McDonald.

While she said she can’t give an exact date for when the polls will open, she said political change is manifesting right across Ireland.

She urged the Irish Government to “read the tea leaves… read the signs and lead from the front”. 

Forced abroad

Speaking directly to the generation of Irish people who she said are today building a life in Australia, she said:

“Many of you have made your homes here and you will stay. We are very proud of you; proud of the immense contribution you make to Australian society,” she said, but added that there is another side to the Irish in Australia story.

“A story of the frustration and the anger of many young Irish people who feel robbed of a life in Ireland.

“I know you have been badly let down, particularly by a housing system characterised by unaffordable homes and extortionate rents, by living costs that were out of control long before we experienced the inflationary crisis of today.

“I understand that you are heartbroken that your hard work and potential could have been wasted had you stayed at home.”

“You want to be with your friends, with your family, with your communities, playing for your home GAA club. I want you to know that we are working hard to change things for you, and that we will change things for you. We will make Ireland the home that you deserve,” McDonald added.

She wants voters at the next election to give her party a chance, she said, stating that a Sinn Féin government will focus on “getting the basics right”.

“We want our people to have homes they can afford to buy or rent, a strong public health service that works for everyone, childcare services that don’t break the bank. A fair economy built on good jobs, decent wages and strong workers’ rights,” she said.

‘We need you’

“To those young Irish people who want to come home I say, I want you to have the chance of returning to your place of origin. I also want you to enjoy your time and your experience in this incredible country for however long it may last.

“So, work hard, enjoy the sun and enjoy the lifestyle, but come home and be part of the new Ireland that we must build. We need you,” said the Sinn Féin leader.

There is a shortage of tradespeople in Ireland, she said, defending one newspaper article in Australia where she appealed for workers to come home.

She said she is appealing to those people who feel they were forced to leave Ireland, who didn’t leave voluntarily, that if they want to come, that it is possible for them to do so and to live and flourish in Ireland.

Speaking about British politics, she said whoever succeeds Boris Johnson in 10 Downing Street “must change direction”.

The next British Prime Minister must re-engage with the spirit of 1998 Good Friday Agreement.

Speaking further about Irish unity, she said “nothing truly great has ever been achieved alone”.

“International solidarity with Ireland is as important today as it was thirty years ago. Ireland needs our international friends, we need Australia to join us on our journey. We ask our friends to be energetic and proactive in advocating for Irish Unity at every opportunity,” she said.

Asked if the Australian prime minister should talk to his UK counterpart behind closed doors and advocate for a referendum, McDonald said she wouldn’t tell the prime minister what to do, but added: “People who value democracy and freedom everywhere should be proponents of Irish reunification.”

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