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Border poll would be good for everyone, insists Sinn Fein President Mary-Lou McDonald

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Drive: Sinn Fein’s Michelle O’Neill speaking at the launch of the party’s manifesto at the MAC in Belfast. Credit: Jonathan Porter / Press Eye

Drive: Sinn Fein’s Michelle O’Neill speaking at the launch of the party’s manifesto at the MAC in Belfast. Credit: Jonathan Porter / Press Eye

Drive: Sinn Fein’s Michelle O’Neill speaking at the launch of the party’s manifesto at the MAC in Belfast. Credit: Jonathan Porter / Press Eye

Sinn Fein has rejected unionist claims that a border poll would be divisive.

Party president Mary-Lou McDonald also dismissed suggestions that the party was deliberately placing less emphasis on unification as a way to blunt the DUP campaign strategy.

Speaking at Sinn Fein’s manifesto launch in Belfast yesterday, she said the party wants to strike a balance between its aspiration for Irish unity and tackling the real life concerns of people.

She insisted the process of planning for unification, through the establishment of an all-island citizens’ assembly, could continue alongside efforts to deal with bread-and-butter issues, such as rocketing living costs and spiralling health service waiting lists.

Sinn Fein’s manifesto includes a pledge to pay £230 to every household in the region to help mitigate some of the pressure of rising energy bills.

Another manifesto priority is securing a date for a border poll on unification.

Ms McDonald refused to be drawn on a specific timeline for holding referenda on both sides of the border but predicted “significant change will happen in the course of this decade”.

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“We are Irish republicans, people know our position in respect of Irish reunification and referendums,” she added.

“There’s no secret about that, but we know that you can push for that, plan for that, but also work very constructively and not just work constructively, but deliver for people and everybody in the here and now.

“And there has to be a balance struck between those two things and our campaign is fashioned to recognise those bread and butter, lived realities of people.”

Ms McDonald said planning for unity “does not mean that you suspend everything else”.

The DUP has claimed Sinn Fein will be emboldened to press for a referendum if it displaces the DUP as the largest party following the May 5 election.

The DUP’s Strangford candidate Peter Weir said: “No matter how Sinn Fein dress it up, a Sinn Fein win will place a focus on a divisive border poll and take Northern Ireland in the wrong direction."

But Ms McDonald denied a border poll would be “divisive”.

“As people who believe in the future of this country, we will always set out a position that a united Ireland or a new Ireland works for everybody, can work for everybody,” she said.

“It’s not divisive, as a matter of fact the proposition is a very inclusive one.”

As well as the £230 for every household, a scheme that would cost £177m, Sinn Fein also pledges to give an extra £100 to benefit recipients who were previously eligible for Stormont’s Energy Support Scheme.


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