Belfast Telegraph

Irish Government urged to prepare for border poll

Mary Lou McDonald said a referendum on Irish unity could happen ‘very quickly’ if the UK crashed out of the EU at the end of October.

Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald (Niall Carson/PA)
Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald (Niall Carson/PA)

The Sinn Fein president has urged the Irish Government to start preparing for a border poll now as the risk of a disorderly Brexit increases.

Mary Lou McDonald said a referendum on Irish unity could happen “very quickly” if the UK crashed out of the EU at the end of October.

The Dublin TD warned of an economic border emerging between Northern Ireland and the Republic and called for the state to prepare for constitutional change.

She made the comments as cabinet ministers meet to hear of the consequences of a no-deal Brexit.

Ireland’s Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney is briefing ministers on three new reports about contingency planning and challenges in the event of a no-deal scenario.

I am talking about a referendum as and when we are prepared to have one, and this could happen very, very quickly Mary Lou McDonald

Speaking on RTE’s Sean O’Rourke show, Ms McDonald said: “At this juncture, the Government is correct to put renewed focus on the possibility of a disorderly crash.

“We need to prepare diplomatically and politically.

“If Britain chooses by accident to crash out of the EU in a disorderly fashion then that decision cannot mean we take big steps backwards.”

She added that in the event of the UK crashing out of the EU, public opinion has “made clear” they wish to see the issue of the border addressed.

“I believe we can best prepare ourselves by doing that in a thoughtful, methodical and prepared way,” the Sinn Fein president added.

“This is why preparation is of the essence because if that is to happen, the Irish Government needs to be in a state of preparedness and I think that the time is now for the Government to create that space, that context, that framework for an all-island inclusive conversation on Ireland post-Brexit and on the issue of the border.

“I am talking about a referendum as and when we are prepared to have one and this could happen very, very quickly.

“It’s like any of the great seismic political changes that have happened in modern times – when they happen, they happen very quickly.

“It can be in a matter of weeks, in some cases days.”

In reference to the party’s long-standing abstentionist policy in Westminster, Ms McDonald said: “It is not within the gift of Sinn Fein to stop Brexit.”

Fianna Fail’s Brexit spokeswoman Lisa Chambers said Sinn Fein’s position on Brexit has been “tempered” and accused the party of using it to advance its political agenda of a border poll.

“She said we must be preparing now and I think that is utterly reckless,” Ms Chambers added.

“Talking about a border poll when Brexit is just 114 days away only further destabilises the situation we already have, and certainly if we have a Brexit crash, the last thing our Government should be doing is preparing for a border poll.

“It needs to help our small to medium enterprises, our hauliers, because a lot of businesses will be looking to Government for significant support.”

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