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Sinn Fein demand Irish unity referendum as Brexit trigger looms

Sinn Fein has said there is an urgent need for a referendum on Irish unity as the British government has "refused to listen" to the majority of people in Northern Ireland over Brexit.

Michelle O'Neill, Sinn Fein's leader in the region, said the British Government was " on the verge of triggering Article 50 that is going to take the North out of the EU against the expressed wishes of the majority of people here".

She added: "They are continuing to refuse to listen to the majority views. Brexit would be a disaster for the economy and the people of Ireland.

"To us in Sinn Fein that increases the urgency for the need of a referendum on Irish unity and that needs to happen as soon as possible."

Calling for a unity referendum is not a new call for Sinn Fein.

Irish Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan said calls for an Irish border poll were "premature" and an issue for the longer term.

Mr Flanagan, who is taking part in political talks at Stormont in a bid to restore powersharing, said the focus must be on getting the institutions up and running first.

"I don't think there is an area from here to the Baltic Sea, or from there to the Black Sea, or from there to the Mediterranean Sea, that is as potentially adversely affected by the withdrawal of the UK from the EU as is here in Northern Ireland and I think it is important therefore that we have a fully functioning Executive up and running to deal with this challenge at the earliest opportunity - this day fortnight," he said.

Mr Flanagan added: " As far as border polls or a united Ireland is concerned these are much longer-term issues.

"It is important that we address the urgent issues to task, which are the forming of the Executive at the first opportunity, getting the administration up and running here, the need to agree a budget, the need to put together a programme for government for the benefit of the people of Northern Ireland and also of course the imminent withdrawal of the UK from the EU.

"Anything else is premature, anything else is for the longer term."

The development came as Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced plans to stage a second independence referendum before the expected date for UK withdrawal from the EU in spring 2019.

Prime Minister Theresa May looks set to keep Brussels waiting for the official notification that she is triggering talks to take Britain out of the European Union.

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