SDLP leader Colum Eastwood has accused Sinn Fein of shifting its position on the issue of a border poll after former party president Gerry Adams said it would be “stupid” to hold a referendum on Irish unity before plans are in place regarding how the transition to a united Ireland would work in practical terms.
Mr Eastwood said Sinn Fein “have spent months attacking SDLP members” for their view that calling for a border poll with no plan or idea on how it would be delivered would be wrong.
Indeed, in February this year Sinn Fein posted an edited video on social media which suggested Mr Eastwood had received a standing ovation at the Fianna Fail conference for saying “there’s a special place in hell for people who call for a border poll on Irish unity”.The footage had been edited to cut the full line, which added “without a plan to win it.”
Reacting to comments made by Mr Adams in his blog, which also included the claim that more unionists are now talking about Irish unity because of “the shambles that is Brexit”, Mr Eastwood said: “I’m glad to hear that Sinn Féin is moving to the position that I have been outlining for some time. Their initial reaction to my suggestion that calling for a border poll with no plan or idea on how it would be delivered would be madness was entirely negative.
“It has taken time, as these things often do, but I’m glad that Sinn Féin leaders are now coming to the SDLP position.”
Writing on his Léargas (Insight) blog, Mr Adams said the Irish government has “a duty to plan for unity” by establishing a ‘Forum for Unity’ to “open up consultations” and a “process of dialogue”.
“This needs planned now. Not after the referendum,” he said. “That is the one big lesson of Brexit. A referendum without a plan is stupid. So a referendum on unity must be set in a thoughtful, inclusive process which sets out a programme of sustainable options. Including phases of transition.”
Aontú leader Peadar Tóibín has also called for a “New Irish Forum on Irish Unity” and “practical planning to begin now to map out the process of economic and service convergence north and south”.
Dismissing Mr Adams’ comments as “an attempt to boost flagging republican morale”, TUV leader Jim Allister said: “After its poor showing in the Republic’s elections, Sinn Fein has clearly decided to wheel out Adams to bang the unity drum again”.