Belfast Telegraph

Don't rush into Irish unity after poll without a plan, says Gerry Adams

Gerry Adams maintains that unionists would be welcome in a united Ireland
Gerry Adams maintains that unionists would be welcome in a united Ireland

By David Young

Former Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams has suggested that a united Ireland should not happen immediately after a border poll in favour of it, as the lesson from Brexit was that a "referendum without a plan is stupid".

Writing in his blog, Mr Adams said he was confident that there will be a referendum on a united Ireland and called on the Irish government to open up the consultation needed to plan for it.

But he added there should be a transition phase in the event of a successful vote for Irish unity.

Last August, Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald said a border poll should be parked until the "dangers" posed by Brexit are mitigated - only to reverse her position within 24 hours after apparently bowing to internal pressure.

Now Mr Adams also appears content to wait due to concerns raised by Brexit.

"This needs planned now. Not after the referendum," he wrote.

"That is the one big lesson of Brexit: a referendum without a plan is stupid.

"So a referendum on unity must be set in a thoughtful inclusive process which sets out a programme of sustainable options. Including phases of transition."

The Louth TD also used recent remarks by two prominent unionists to back his case. Baroness Eileen Paisley, widow of firebrand DUP founder Rev Ian Paisley, recently said of the partition of the island that "perhaps that was a wrong division" and said she "would like to think I could" live in a united Ireland.

He also cited former DUP leader and First Minister Peter Robinson, who last year suggested that preparations should be made for the possibility of a united Ireland, and he would accept a democratic vote for one, although unionists would want some "protections".

Mr Adams wrote: "This need for 'protections' has long been recognised by republicans and nationalists. No one I know who wants a united Ireland believes that it should be any other than a warm house for unionism, built on a foundation of equality and inclusiveness. This is evident in the debate taking place on the unity issue."

Mr Adams' call comes after Sinn Fein lost half its local councillors in the Republic last week, as well as losing two of its three MEPs there.

TUV leader Jim Allister poured scorn on Mr Adams' border poll call. "After its poor showing in the Republic's elections, Sinn Fein has clearly decided to wheel out Adams to bang the unity drum again," he said.

"It is a matter of regret, though, that in his attempt to boost flagging republican morale, he was enabled to draw succour from the foolish comments of a DUP peer and from a former leader. It is for the DUP to answer for their own."

In his blog post, the former west Belfast MP also cited unionist commentator Alex Kane's call for unionists to be prepared for a poll.

Last night, Mr Kane said Mr Adams' plea to Dublin "may be an acknowledgement from Sinn Fein that this route - through the Irish government - could be the only way potentially forward for their Irish unity project".

"It's also an admission that Sinn Fein's dreadful results in last week's local and European elections in the Republic are forcing them into a rethink, forcing them to acknowledge that they cannot by themselves persuade unionists - or the major parties in the Republic - of the value of their unity project," he said.

A poll during the Euro elections in the Republic found that 65% of people agreed with a 'united Ireland'. "That was also the day Sinn Fein's vote went down the drain'," Mr Kane said.

Ulster Unionist Party leader Robin Swann MLA said that as a TD in the Irish Republic "and a lifelong self-proclaimed Irish republican, Gerry Adams is perfectly entitled to call on the Dublin government to plan for unity one day".

But he added: "And as unionists we will be making the case that Northern Ireland and its people are best served by remaining part of the United Kingdom.

"The most important thing in his comments is the fact that Gerry Adams is seeking to pursue a political aim by peaceful means.

"This really is a case of 'better late than never' because there are tragically several thousand people who would still be alive today if the republican movement had reached this conclusion before they decided to take up weapons and spend decades murdering their unionist neighbours - and anyone else who crossed their path - in their failed bid to achieve a united Ireland."

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