DUP call for explanation from Sinn Fein over border poll stance after O’Neill played it down during election

The DUP has contrasted two statements from leading Sinn Fein figures, indicating that they contradict one another on how important a border poll is.

By Adam Kula
Monday, 13th June 2022, 2:35 pm
Updated Monday, 13th June 2022, 3:09 pm

It comes after overall party president Mary Lou McDonald said that a border poll is now her “priority”.

Appearing on Sky News’ Sophy Ridge On Sunday programme, Mrs McDonald was asked about the idea of a referendum on Irish unity.

She said: “There will have to be two referendums, in the north and south, in both jurisdictions.

4th April 2022. Presseye.com President Mary Lou McDonald pictured at the Sinn Féin candidate launch for the upcoming Assembly election at the Titanic Hotel in Belfast. Mandatory Credit Stephen Hamilton / Presseye

“At this point the big priority for me and for us is that preparation for such a referendum is under way.

“We have to have a very wide, all of society conversation and that has to include unionism... I have urged Dublin to begin the preparation now.”

IN APRIL FOCUS WAS ‘COST OF LIVING’...

Speaking on April 5, the party’s NI leader Michelle O’Neill made reference to a recent poll from The Institute of Irish Studies at the University of Liverpool which found that 30% would vote for a united Ireland if a referendum was held tomorrow.

“I think it’s an interesting poll,” Ms O’Neill told business representatives at a meeting in the Europa Hotel.

“It’s one in a long line of polls. I looked very briefly at the figures this morning.

“But I don’t think people woke up this morning thinking about that.

“I think people woke up this morning thinking about the cost-of-living crisis. I think people woke up this morning around the pressure they feel right now.

“So, I’m focused on the cost-of-living crisis.”

At the time, Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said: “Sinn Fein should be open and honest about its divisive border poll plans.

“Only two weeks ago they were happy to talk about their divisive border poll plan in Washington and New York to senators and congressmen.

“Why does Sinn Fein not want to talk about their divisive border plans in Northern Ireland?”

DUP HITS OUT:

Reacting today, Foyle DUP MLA Gary Middleton said: “In Mary Lou McDonald’s own words the ‘big priority’ for Sinn Fein is a border poll.

“This is what we predicted would be the outcome of a victory for republicans.

“Their focus isn’t on tackling the cost of living or ensuring devolution can return, but attempting to ensure instability and divisive politics continues...

“Perhaps Michelle O’Neill could explain Mary Lou McDonald’s latest pronouncement in light of her comments during the election campaign that people weren’t waking up thinking about a border poll.”

He added: “The response from other parties to Sinn Fein’s continued border poll obsession will also be telling.

“Will they step forward and challenge republicans to focus on the issues that really matter, or will there be the usual silence from their pro-Protocol allies?”

The News Letter has asked the SDLP and Alliance what they think of Sinn Fein’s push for a border poll, and is awaiting responses.

WHAT WOULD TRIGGER A POLL?

Mrs McDonald also used her Sunday interview to call on the UK government to make clear exactly what would trigger a border poll.

The Good Friday Agreement says this: “[Signatories] recognise the legitimacy of whatever choice is freely exercised by a majority of the people of Northern Ireland with regard to its status, whether they prefer to continue to support the Union with Great Britain or a sovereign united Ireland...

“The Secretary of State may by order direct the holding of a poll for the purposes of [the above constitutional choice]...

“The Secretary of State shall exercise the power under paragraph one if at any time it appears likely to him that a majority of those voting would express a wish that Northern Ireland should cease to be part of the United Kingdom and form part of a united Ireland.”

This wording is crucial to the fate of the Province.

It leaves open the possibility that if opinion polls show even a 49/51 unionist / nationalist split, it could be used as a pretext for a referendum.

The online polling firm LucidTalk, based in Belfast, last year found support for Irish unity running at around 42 to 43%.

But this is wildly out of kilter with polls produced by the Northern Ireland Life and Times studies – face-to-face polls of random addresses tun by Ulster

University.

These have shown varying support for Irish unity over the years, from a high of 30% in 2006, all the way down to 14% in 2015 – with the most recent figure (2019) showing that only 22% respondents believed Irish unity would be the best longterm policy.

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