Belfast Telegraph

Sinn Fein hails 'the most important election in a lifetime'

Party wants border poll within next five years

By Noel McAdam

Sinn Fein has hailed the General Election as "the most important election in a lifetime" as it demanded a referendum on a united Ireland in the next five years.

And the republican party warned that the DUP has not heard or is ignoring its political demands, even though it came just a seat behind Arlene Foster's party in the March Assembly election.

Sinn Fein Stormont leader Michelle O'Neill lambasted the failure of the DUP to respond and called for "another groundbreaking election" for republicans.

Launching Sinn Fein's manifesto in Fermanagh and South Tyrone - where the party hopes to take back the Westminster seat held by Ulster Unionist Tom Elliott - Ms O'Neill said the recent Stormont election had activated a transformation which would have been "unimaginable" to the founders of Northern Ireland.

Claiming the party is heading for another "groundbreaking" election, she said "the new certainties are gone and a new political era is opening up in Irish politics".

But asked whether she and party president Gerry Adams believe the unionist vote is galvanising around the DUP - and whether that augurs well for the negotiations to restore devolution - Mr Adams said only: "We don't know."

Putting a timescale on the party's demand for a referendum on Irish unity, the manifesto stated Sinn Fein believes it should take place "within the next five years".

With South Down and North Belfast also in the party's sights to increase its current four MPs, Ms O'Neill said: "The imposition of Brexit and cuts from the Tories demonstrates the unjust and undemocratic nature of partition and the Union. Ending partition has now taken on a new dynamic following the Brexit referendum.

"I have no doubt that we are going to do well in this election. This is going to be another momentous election."

The manifesto also prioritised an Irish Language Act, marriage equality and realising the benefits of greater all-Ireland co-operation.

Miss O'Neill said Sinn Fein had not wanted a General Election, but said it was "probably the most important election in a lifetime".

But she added "unfortunately" DUP representatives had failed to register, or just ignored, Sinn Fein's concerns and demands - which meant another message should be sent "loud and clear" on June 8.

But Brexit, and its implications for the entire island of Ireland, is at the heart of the manifesto and the party's campaign.

Mrs O'Neill warned EU withdrawal will mean disaster for the economy, local business, farmers and the wider agri-food industry, as well as undermining health and workers rights.

"Westminster should not be able to dictate our future. Irish unity is now firmly on the agenda and rights and equality have been put centre-stage of the political process," she added.

"Designated special status would preserve access to the single market and customs union, ensure that we retain the Common Travel Area and maintain access to all EU funding streams."

Northern Ireland was being treated as collateral damage by the Tories, she added, although she said the abstentionist policy at Westminster will not change.

Pointing the finger at the SDLP, whose MPs she accused of ineffectiveness in the Commons, she said: "We are proud abstentionists and we think other nationalists should do the same."

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