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United Ireland should hold Twelfth celebrations, says Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald


Sinn Fein president Mary Lou McDonald
Sinn Fein president Mary Lou McDonald

By Hugh O'Connell

Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald is willing to put celebrating the Twelfth of July across the island of Ireland on the table in talks on a future Irish border poll.

Ms McDonald told the Irish Independent that "everything should be on the table" when asked specifically about the Protestant celebration of William of Orange's victory at the Battle of the Boyne.

"I'll tell you how we do it, we do it by having them [unionists] front and centre in the conversation and asking them, because I would be absolutely astonished if for people of a unionist persuasion the issue around the Twelfth of July was not raised," she said.

"We, more than any other political party in the Oireachtas, are used to working with, living with, dealing with our unionist neighbours and the Twelfth of July is very widely celebrated as we currently speak."

Ms McDonald's comments in an interview last month, come amid controversy over the now-postponed State commemoration in Dublin Castle of the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) and Dublin Metropolitan Police.

Sinn Fein has led calls for the event to be cancelled altogether amid concerns it amounts to celebrating the Black and Tans.

While acknowledging Sinn Fein supporters may not favour of marking the Twelfth, Ms McDonald believes people will "surprise themselves" with what they find acceptable in a united Ireland.

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"Generally speaking, people are decent and reasonable and they want a good life for themselves and for their families and they are happy to accommodate and respect their neighbours so long as that accommodation and respect comes back to them," she said.

"They're kind of the go-to issues when people talk about Irish unity, and that's fine.

"Bring all of that to the table. Let's talk about it."

However, she declined to express regret for proclaiming "up the rebels" and "tiocfaidh ar la" when she took as leader over two years.

Ms McDonald rejected criticism of her party's demand for border poll preparations to begin immediately.

"I actually think the responsible thing to do is to actually structure that conversation because it's happening everywhere. It's happening in the north, it's happening within loyalism, it's happening within unionism," she said.

She said a unity referendum by 2025 is a "deliverable, reasonable" timeline and that preparations "need to start now" by setting up a forum or citizens' assembly.

She said all-island healthcare is a major issue for those she speaks to about future Irish unity and wants to set a date in any programme for government talks after the next election.

While critics claim Ms McDonald is not in control of Sinn Fein - that the party is still run out of west Belfast - she insisted Gerry Adams "doesn't pull my strings, nobody's pulling my strings".

Former Ulster Unionist MLA and Orangeman Tom Elliott said that it was a "bit rich" for Ms McDonald to include the Twelfth parades in any Irish border poll debate as people already have the right to march.

"It just shows the twisted nature of Sinn Fein representatives," he said.

"It's almost unbearable to think that as part of a border poll they would look at the right to parade.

"Such nonsense."

The former Fermanagh and South Tyrone MLA also said that current controversy surrounding RIC commemorations in Ireland has set the idea of Irish unity back "by decades".

"That just demonstrates to unionists the way they would be treated within an all-Ireland state," he added.

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