Belfast Telegraph

DUP MP hits back at McDonald over 'scorched earth' comment

DUP MP Gregory Campbell
DUP MP Gregory Campbell
Mary Lou McDonald

By David O'Dornan

DUP MP Gregory Campbell has hit back at Mary Lou McDonald after the Sinn Fein leader said her party does not have a "scorched earth policy" regarding Irish unity.

Ms McDonald was asked by Guardian journalist Owen Jones whether Brexit was making a united Ireland more likely and if it was "bitter-sweet" in that respect.

She replied: "It's not bitter-sweet, we don't have a scorched earth policy as regards Irish unity. I don't take a simplistic view of the end justifying the means. And we are very conscious that we have an obligation to people in terms of jobs, in terms of the security of their families, their ability to turn the light on, to put bread on the table and we say that Brexit is hugely damaging for everyone."

She said that "economically in bread and butter terms it's hugely damaging".

"There's changes afoot on the island of Ireland in terms of demographics which is not always my first port of call - I don't like this idea of outbreeding your opposition to get constitutional change - but the demographic trends are clear," the Dublin TD said.

"But also the politics has changed on the island, there's a real sense of an appetite for progress and modernity, which I think is really encouraging. And also, bear this in mind, the Northern state was based on the premise of an in-built unionist majority for ever and ever.

"That's gone now, it's gone in the last two elections, so all of those things are in the mix. But if you're asking me if I'm secretly delighted that Brexit has happened, the answer is 'no'."

But East Londonderry MP Mr Campbell said some people will find her reference to population demographics "offensive" and took exception to her using the "scorched earth" phrase.

He said: "The fact that she uses that term without it being put to her, in other words she introduces it into the conversation, indicates to me, as I have thought for some time, that that is exactly the type of policy they are adopting - a scorched earth policy.

"I'm sure what will be found as offensive is the repeat of this demographic change issue that they keep raising now from time to time.

"They seem to equate to more Catholics meaning more nationalists, when they totally ignore the tens of thousands of Catholics who, if there was a border poll, would vote to stay within the UK because they know that economically and socially and for a whole series of other reasons that that's where they are better off - and they're not denied their Irishness by doing that.

"She seems to obliterate that and assume more Catholics means more nationalists, which it doesn't.

"But I think the more salient point is the one I referred to, the no scorched earth policy, because that is exactly what they are doing in this business of trying to dress up Brexit as a precursor to some sort of poll that will lead to a united Ireland.

"They know that the more they push that, the more divisive politics becomes in Northern Ireland and the scorched earth policy that they say they don't adopt, is exactly what's happening precisely - because they adopt that."

Elsewhere in the video interview, Ms McDonald said she thinks Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn understands Ireland and said that she wants to see more discussions around a referendum on Irish unity.

She added: "We need to start moving the conversation onwards around the whole issue of constitutional change and a poll on unity."

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