Sinn Fein leader against Irish unity poll while Brexit impasse remains

A poll on Irish unity should not be held while uncertainty around Brexit remains, the leader of Sinn Fein has warned.

Monday, 30th July 2018, 6:53 pm
Updated Friday, 31st August 2018, 5:00 pm
Pacemaker Press 25/6/2018 Sinn Fein Leader Mary Lou McDonald. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker

Mary Lou McDonald said she disagreed with those who argued that a hard or chaotic Brexit should be the trigger for a referendum on unification.

The Sinn Fein president insisted that would be the wrong climate for a substantive debate on the constitutional issue.

“The obvious thing would be to say ‘well have the border poll and remove the border, if the border is the problem, simply take it away’ and there is a certain logic to that,” she said.

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“I am very, very conscious that you can’t come at this issue in that simplistic way.

“It’s very important when we come to addressing the issue of partition we do it in the best possible climate and we do it in a way that maximises consent.

“It is not my preferred option or our preferred option that we deal with the issue of Irish unity in a climate that is unsteady or unstable or chaotic, in other words in the context of a crash Brexit or a very hard Brexit.”

In an interview with the Press Association, Mrs McDonald said the border poll question should be put to one side until the “dangers” posed by Brexit are mitigated.

“I would prefer, it is my strong reference, that we have sequencing that firstly delivers a level of economic and social certainty, in as much we can be certain, and stability and from that base we then continue the conversation about Irish unity,” she said.

Mrs McDonald also said unionists who failed to countenance the possibility of a united Ireland in the future were burying their heads in the sand.

She was reacting to the fallout from remarks by former Democratic Unionist leader Peter Robinson, who said unionists should prepare for what would happen if they were to lose a future border poll.

Mr Robinson’s party colleague Sammy Wilson was among a number of unionists to criticise the former first minister’s comments, accusing him of giving encouragement to the republican narrative.

Mrs McDonald said it was “common sense” to look at possible constitutional changes, even if you did not support them.

Reflecting on what accommodations might be made for unionists if a united Ireland was to come to pass, the Sinn Fein president also indicated she would be prepared to accept a different flag and national anthem.

“Peter Robinson certainly is not raising a banner for Irish republicanism or for a united Ireland but I think it’s good to hear a senior unionist talk in terms that are simply grounded in realism,” she said.

“Peter Robinson is a unionist clearly, and he will argue passionately for the maintenance of the union, as will others, and that’s fine, but it would be a case of really burying your head in the sand for unionism generally if they were not to raise their gaze and look to the future horizons and say if it were to happen, it doesn’t have to be your first option, but if that comes to pass what is it that we need as citizens, as a political tradition, as a cultural tradition, what are the things that we want to secure in a new Ireland?

“There are some that think if you just keep shouting ‘no’ loud enough that you can make change go away, you can be that boy with your finger in the dam trying to hold back social change - but that’s not how life works, it’s not how history works.”

On the prospect of standing below a new flag and singing a new anthem in a reunified Ireland, she said: “I, as with every other person who argues for a new united Ireland, will honour the flag of that island, will honour the dawning of that new opportunity and I would be proud to stand shoulder to shoulder with my fellow citizens, irrespective of religious creed, political background cultural background irrespective of everything that has gone before and I would proudly sing the anthem or anthems of that Ireland.”

Earlier on Monday, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar restated his view that it was currently the wrong time for a border poll.

“I think it’s not helpful to be talking about a border poll in Northern Ireland,” he said.

“We are in a situation whereby there is huge uncertainty in Northern Ireland because people don’t know what’s going to happen in terms of Brexit but also the Northern Ireland parties haven’t been able to come together and form an executive.

“For me to start talking about border poll in that context wouldn’t be helpful.”