Belfast Telegraph

'The time for Irish unity referendum is near': Sinn Fein's McDonald

Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald has doubled down on her Irish reunification U-turn and said an Irish unity referendum is now at the centre of political discussion.

The comments come a week after Ms McDonald said a poll on Irish unity should not be held while uncertainty around Brexit remains.

The Sinn Fein president was speaking at a hunger strike commemoration in Castlewellan in Co Down on Sunday.

It marks the anniversary of the deaths of 10 republican hunger strikers, including Bobby Sands and Raymond McCreesh in 1981.

She said: "A referendum on a United Ireland is provided for in the Good Friday Agreement. The need for a referendum to end partition is writ large.  The time for a Unity Referendum is drawing near. It is not a question of if a unity referendum will happen but a question of when."

Mrs McDonald said British Identity "can and must be accommodated" in a united Ireland.

"As Britain turns away from Europe, the appeal of being part of a new and outward-looking Ireland will, I believe, prove ever more attractive to some within the unionist community," she said.

“British identity can and must be accommodated in a united Ireland and I believe nationalist Ireland is open to constitutional and political safeguards to ensure this."

The Sinn Fein leader said her party was committed to re-establishing the Executive, which collapsed last January.

The Irish and British governments have said there will be a new round of talks in autumn.

A procession during the 37th National Hunger Strike Commemoration in Castlewellan, County Down, Northern Ireland. Niall Carson/PA Wire

Mrs McDonald said: "That is welcome. However basic rights, respect and equality cannot be disregarded, they are not bargaining chips. They are for all in society.

“Marriage equality, the right to inquests and language rights are for everyone.

“Fifty years on from the civil rights movement, sections of political unionism still resist equality and rights, but they will not succeed.

“It is not sufficient for the two governments to only call a talks process. They must bring something to the table. They need to make clear that agreements must be implemented in full.

“The way to unlock the political process is to make clear that rights enjoyed in the rest of Ireland and across Britain will be implemented in the north.

“Of course, we are dealing with a British government that is dependent on DUP votes and sees Ireland and as collateral damage in their desire to remain in office.

“That is why we need a strong Irish government leading on these issues."

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