Nigel Farage has said that he is dismayed to see Sinn Fein – whose leadership he once campaigned alongside in opposition to the EU – enthusiastically calling for the UK to stay in the EU.
The Ukip leader said he believed that some members of Sinn Fein – which has historically been Eurosceptic and which campaigned against the Common Market in the 1975 referendum – would ignore their party leadership and vote to leave.
Speaking to the News Letter during a visit to Belfast on Monday, Mr Farage said of the republican party’s stance: “I just find it really hard to believe. I came to Dublin in 2008 during the referendum on the Lisbon Treaty.
“I shared a platform with [Sinn Fein deputy leader] Mary Lou McDonald – something which I had to think very long and hard about doing – but I did it on the basis that I thought this issue was bigger than anything that divided us.
“And now, just a few years down the line, to see that Sinn Fein have completely given up on any concept of what could be described as nationalism or independence – whether it’s the EU money, I don’t know, but it’s extremely disappointing.”
Mr Farage said that he believed there would be “a constituency of Sinn Fein voters who are long-held Shinners who will see European Union as being a bigger problem than the United Kingdom”.
However, despite Mr Farage’s optimism that individual republicans will vote to quit the EU, political nationalism – and the Irish Government – appear overwhelmingly united in favour of staying in.
By contrast, unionism is divided on the issue, with the DUP supporting the Leave campaign while the Ulster Unionist Party is in the Remain camp.
However, both of the major unionist parties have accepted that their membership are not entirely united behind their official positions.
‘We’ll win seats – but Ukip needs to change’
Nigel Farage has said that he is expecting to have “seats” at Stormont after May 5 and is hoping to be the only party leader to have members of the Scottish, Welsh, Northern Irish and London assemblies.
Mr Farage played down suggestions that he could walk away from Ukip after the referendum and form another party, saying: “I don’t see the need to form another vehicle”.
But he said that there was a need “for Ukip to change”, saying that the party and its constitution dated from the 1990s but now needed to be “a little bit less reliant on volunteers” and have “a little bit more reliance on professionals”.
He added: “I think the membership models for all the existing political parties is virtually broken – that’s why I’m looking at the Italian Five Star Movement; the idea that you have an online party, the idea that people can engage for relatively small sums of money. The idea that people have more input on policy and direction.
“That’s what the Italians have done. They’re on 30 per cent in the national opinion polls. I’ve started a debate in Ukip on this.”