Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness and Gerry Adams said now is the time to talk about Irish unity as they launched a new Sinn Fein unity blueprint on Monday.
Under the republican party’s vision for a united Ireland, Gerry Adams said there would be a series of enshrined protections for unionists, including the option of British citizenship, and the potential retention of a devolved powersharing administration at Stormont.
The party’s discussion document claims “Brexit has changed everything”, arguing that the UK-wide vote to the leave the EU, in the face of a majority vote in Northern Ireland (56%) to remain, has major implications for the debate about the island’s constitutional future.
The paper claims some unionists, particularly “young and liberal” voters, were now willing to explore the potential of a united Ireland.
Sinn Fein said an all-Ireland vote on unification should take place in the next political term.
Under the terms of the 1998 Good Friday peace agreement, the UK Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has the power to trigger a poll on unity, but only if he or she believes there has been a shift in public opinion in favour of changing the constitutional position.
Current Secretary of State James Brokenshire has said there is no evidence that Brexit has prompted such a change of opinion.
Sinn Fein president Mr Adams said it was “incomprehensible” to have one part of Ireland within the EU and one outside it.
The document was launched in Belfast and Dublin on Monday morning. Mr Adams, who penned the document’s foreword, did not attend either of the launches as he is en route to Cuba for Fidel Castro’s funeral.
“The Brexit referendum result has swept away many of the previous political assumptions about the constitutional, political and economic status quo in Ireland,” he said.
“Ireland’s political landscape, north and south, has been transformed dramatically.
“Massive uncertainties have been triggered about the implications for business, trade, jobs, social protections, educational opportunities, and future political and economic stability.
“This poses huge challenges for Irish national interests.
“For English and Welsh votes to drag the north of Ireland out of the EU against the will of its people would, like partition itself, be yet another travesty of democracy and would undermine the Good Friday Agreement.
“It is now vitally important that there is maximum co-operation to uphold the democratic wishes of the people of the north.
“Ultimately, the only realistic way to ensure this is through the unity of the island of Ireland.”
Mr Adams said partition was stunting the “political, economic, social and cultural” potential of Ireland.
The paper also questioned the argument that the Irish Republic could not afford Northern Ireland, describing that as a “myth”.
It challenged the level to which the UK government subsidises Northern Ireland, claiming the sum could be as low as £2.7 billion a year.
“The island of Ireland is currently administered by two states and three governments - in Dublin, Belfast and London,” said Mr Adams.
“This system is wasteful, inefficient and incapable of successfully prioritising the interests of the Irish people that require an integrated vision for the island.”
In his speech Mr McGuinness said: “Towards a United Ireland lays out the rationale for reunification in terms of the economy, public services and reconciliation.
“The document details the type of new and united Ireland we believe can be delivered; a new Ireland built on the principles of equality and inclusion.
“It would require a discussion on symbols and emblems to reflect an inclusive Ireland, including the safeguarding of British Citizenship and a recognition of the Unionist identity.
“There is therefore an onus on those of us who want unity to persuade unionists and others of the merits and efficacy of this position.
“The imposition of Brexit, despite the vote of the people in the north to Remain, underlines the undemocratic nature of partition and the unequal relationship between London and Belfast.
“There is also an onus on the Irish government to begin to plan for unity, to draft a green paper for unity; to drive the process and build the maximum agreement and to secure and win a border poll.
“The reunification of Ireland is about more than adding the north onto the south. It is about building on what is best in both jurisdictions. A United Ireland means a new Ireland.
“We have the opportunity to redefine in a positive and inclusive way the relationships across the island and between Ireland and Britain. Now is the time to look to the future.”