Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill has challenged claims from DUP leader Arlene Foster that the “circumstances” for a border poll don’t exist.
Calls for a border poll on the island have escalated in recent days, following the result of the Irish General Election which saw a stunning victory by Sinn Fein.
The all-Ireland party topped the poll as counting finished, winning 37 seats in the 160-seat Dail and now becoming king makers in forming the next government.
The result has seen calls by senior figures in Sinn Fein that any prospective government in the Republic of Ireland would demand a unity referendum from Prime Minister Boris Johnson, as part of an incoming programme for government.
Tweeting, First Minister Arlene Foster rejected any suggestion that the threshold of support for calling a border poll by Secretary of State (SoS) Julian Smith had been reached.
“Irrespective of the view in Dublin or Brussels, a border poll can only be called by SoS if it appears likely to secure a majority in Northern Ireland,” she wrote.
“No such circumstances exist in Northern Ireland.”
Mrs Foster then went on to claim that the percentage of vote share in favour of “united Ireland” supporting parties in Northern Ireland had dropped between the 2001 and 2019 UK General Elections – falling from 42% to 38%.
There is nothing to fear in terms of trying to shape a new islandMichelle O'Neill
Responding to the First Minister’s remarks on social media, Michelle O’Neill reiterated that she believed “the conditions are met” in calling for a border poll.
“In the last four elections the unionist majority is gone. It is the first time in the history of the 26 county state, that Sinn Fein are the largest party. I think that shows there is a support there for the uniting Ireland project,” she said.
“I would say this to those who don’t share the same aspirations as ourselves. There is nothing to fear in terms of trying to shape a new island.
“I think it is an opportunity. Now is the time to plan for Irish unity. Let’s not do onto the people here what was done in terms of Brexit in England.”
Michelle O’Neill also stressed that negotiations to form a government in the Republic of Ireland did not need to be “drawn out”, but admitted bringing together all the left-wing parties into coalition in the Dail “is probably a stretch”.
“That doesn’t mean you don’t try to make every effort to form alliances where we can,” she added.
“In terms of what we would ask for in a negotiation... as republicans we will have asks.
“Also clearly as someone who now enjoys the largest share of vote across the 26 counties, we will be equal partners in government.
“Clearly this is a work in progress but there is certainly no desire on our behalf to draw it out."
Michelle O’Neill was speaking after attending a Safer Internet Day event at Holy Trinity Primary School in west Belfast on Tuesday morning.
The school is the first in Northern Ireland to be awarded the Cyber Resilience and Internet safety badge by Digital Schools NI and was also presented with the 360 Degree safety award from online safety charity South West Grid for Learning.