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Brexit potentially bigger than peace process, says Martin McGuinness

Published 02/11/2016

Deputy First Minster of Northern Ireland Martin McGuinness and Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams at the All-Island Civic Dialogue on Brexit
Deputy First Minster of Northern Ireland Martin McGuinness and Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams at the All-Island Civic Dialogue on Brexit

Brexit is potentially bigger than the peace process for Ireland, Martin McGuinness has warned.

Northern Ireland's Deputy First Minister, a former IRA commander and central figure in negotiating landmark peace deals, said the UK decision to leave the EU is the "major crisis of our time".

"I've been involved in some of the most historic and important negotiations that this island has seen in 100 years, more particularly the Good Friday Agreement and the St Andrew's Agreement," he said.

"What we are facing into now, in my opinion, is just as big as that - maybe even bigger."

The stark outlook is not helped by a British government which is "all over the place" on the UK's future, he added.

Speaking to an all-island Brexit forum in Dublin, Mr McGuinness said unionists - who have snubbed the gathering - were shocked by the outcome of the June referendum.

Although Northern Ireland voted to remain in the EU, the region's biggest party, the Democratic Unionists - who share power with Mr McGuinness's Sinn Fein, had campaigned for a Leave vote.

"I know for a fact that unionists were shocked by the outcome of the Brexit referendum," Mr McGuinness said.

"I know one particular unionist who lost a fortune because he backed Remain. That's absolutely true."

Mr McGuinness said the British opt-out has "profound implications" for the entire island of Ireland.

It will impact on hugely sensitive issues, including politics, social interaction, the business community, the peace process and the island's entire future, he said.

But he added that he was optimistic that leaders in both Northern Ireland the Republic of Ireland could come together to negotiate with the British government and the European Union.

Mr McGuinness was speaking before the the All-Island Civic Dialogue, a specially convened forum of politicians, business leaders, community representatives and others from both sides of the border.

Northern Ireland's main unionist parties, the Democratic Unionists and the Ulster Unionist Party, both declined to attend.

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