Time drawing near for Ireland border poll, Sinn Fein's McDonald tells hunger strike event
Sinn Fein president Mary Lou McDonald underlined her support for a border poll at a major republican commemoration yesterday, a week after saying a referendum on Irish unity shouldn't be held amid Brexit uncertainty.
Ms McDonald said the prospect of a referendum was "back at the centre of political discussion" during her speech delivered at an event commemorating the 1981 hunger strike in Co Down.
- McCreesh play park defended during republican rally
- Son of slain jail warder urges Belfast ban on dissident procession
Her comments at the event, marking the deaths of the 10 republican hunger strikers, seemed to copper-fasten her U-turn on the issue.
Last week the TD had suggested that a referendum on Irish unity should not be held amid Brexit uncertainty.
However, she backtracked on her suggestion less than 24 hours later, prompting mockery from unionists.
Ms McDonald's attendance at yesterday's Castlewellan commemoration, which was attended by an estimated 5,000 people, was her first in the capacity of Sinn Fein leader.
She used her platform address to reiterate her party's position on reunification, which was greeted by applause from the crowd who gathered in a field following the parade.
"The time for a unity referendum is drawing near," she said.
"It is not a question of if a unity referendum will happen, but a question of when.
The Sinn Fein leader added that there was an "urgent need" for dialogue to get under way, which she said must include unionist political leaders as well as the Irish Government.
The latter, she continued, had a responsibility to take a lead on the process.
"Political leaders must begin practical preparations for a new, inclusive Ireland beyond partition," she added.
"We are entering a defining period in Irish political history.
"Change is coming and it must be managed, sensitively and imaginatively.
"A process of national reconciliation must be central to any genuine effort to unite the people of this island."
Addressing the ongoing Brexit fallout, Ms McDonald said Remainers within the unionist community would be increasingly attracted to being part of a "new and outward-looking Ireland" as the UK continues to "turn away from Europe".
She also reiterated Sinn Fein's commitment to forging a united Ireland that would accommodate unionists and their culture.
"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," insisted the party leader.
"The right of unionists to celebrate their history and tradition, to recount their experiences and suffering, and to remember and honour their dead must be, and will be, respected."
And to claps and cheers, she added: "Just as our right to remember, to commemorate and honour our dead will be respected."
Ms McDonald also stressed that the party would continue to build on its equality agenda in the event of Irish unity as she laid out Sinn Fein's vision.
"It will be an Ireland united and at peace with itself. It will be a successful, prosperous Ireland of opportunity for all, regardless of class, colour, religion, gender or sexual orientation," she told the crowd.
Reasserting her party's commitment to seeing the Executive and Assembly restored, Ms McDonald said the political stalemate could only be overcome if progress is made on a number of social issues, such as the extension of same-sex marriage legislation to the North, which the DUP is strongly against.
"Marriage equality, the right to inquests and language rights are for everyone," she insisted.
"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."
Ms McDonald added that the DUP's 'confidence and supply' agreement with the Tories continued to be a sticking point in getting the Assembly's institutions restored.
"We are dealing with a British Government that is dependent on DUP votes and sees Ireland as collateral damage in their desire to remain in office," she added. "That is why we need a strong Irish Government leading on these issues."