ELECTION 2022: Letter to Saoradh shows Irish unity is still Sinn Fein’s priority, says Sir Jeffrey Donaldson

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has said revelations that Sinn Fein tried to woo the political allies of the New IRA to join a peaceful push for a border poll is all the evidence voters need that the party’s number one priority is an Irish unity referendum.

By Henry McDonald
Sunday, 1st May 2022, 9:10 pm
Updated Monday, 2nd May 2022, 11:15 am
Saoradh colour party marches from Free Derry corner to the City Cemetery in Londonderry, as part of an event to mark the 1916 Easter Rising. Picture date: Monday April 18, 2022.
Saoradh colour party marches from Free Derry corner to the City Cemetery in Londonderry, as part of an event to mark the 1916 Easter Rising. Picture date: Monday April 18, 2022.

The DUP leader was referring to a story in The Sunday Times that Sinn Fein’s national chairman Declan Kearney reached out to Saoradh about joining a campaign for a border poll.

In Mr Kearney’s letter to Saoradh leader and former Provisional IRA prisoner Brian Kenna in late 2020 the Sinn Fein national chair called for a meeting to discuss how best to achieve a referendum on unity stating it should be “an immediate political priority” for all republicans.

Speaking last night on the UTV live debate among the leaders of the five main parties at Stormont, Sir Jeffrey said: “We have been saying for the last number of weeks that Sinn Fein have been trying to hide the fact that their number one priority is to push for a border poll. Right at the heart of their manifesto is a demand for a date to be set for a border poll. And others have been saying, ‘oh no this is not an issue’. But it is an issue and an issue for everyone in Northern Ireland when we have Sinn Fein looking to build an alliance with people who are still committing murder on our streets to deliver their unity poll.”

Leaders of the five main local political parties before recording of Sunday night’s UTV leaders debate with host Marc Mallett (far right) at Queen’s Film Theatre in south Belfast

He said that this revelation at the weekend combined with Friends of Sinn Fein advertisements on a border poll in the New York Times and Washington Post were proof that the party was “cranking up the pressure” for a referendum.

Sinn Fein vice president Michelle O’Neill defended the decision to write to Saoradh arguing it was motivated by a desire to win dissident republicans away from violence towards peaceful politics.

Ms O’Neill said: “Declan Kearney as the chairperson of our party has reached out to those people to say that they now must work towards unity and changing the constitutional position but only by consent, only by the public working together. There is a democratic and a peaceful way towards unity and that is the route we think is likely. It is incumbent upon all of us to call those actors out to say they are wrong and they are wrong.”

Confirming that the letter was sent by Sinn Fein, she said: “I think it’s really really important that we call these people out, that we encourage them to join those of us engaged in political actions in order to try and bring out a peaceful and democratic pathway towards unity.”

In a statement released on Sunday Saoradh said it had no interest in engaging in private dialogue with Sinn Fein.

“Saoradh are on public record stating that public debate, rather than private dialogue, is the best place to gauge differences in the core positions between republicans and constitutional nationalism as led by Sinn Fein.”

Saoradh has in the past been linked as the political allies of the New IRA although the group has stated publicly that “we not speak on behalf of the Irish Republican Army”.

After the New IRA shot dead journalist Lyra McKee in 2019 Saoradh stated that the 29-year-old was “accidentally killed” when a “republican volunteer” fired shots at police in Londonderry.