Sinn Féin President Mary Lou McDonald has demanded a border poll within the next five years following her party’s strong showing in the northern Assembly election.
Describing partition as “disastrous” and that it had led to “conflict and no end of hardship”, Deputy McDonald said the result was a wakeup call for the Irish Government:
“In the first instance we need to start planning now for the change ahead,” she told TalkTV from the count in Belfast.
“And that has to involve all of us and we believe it needs to be led by the Government in Dublin in the first instance.”
She continued that five years was reasonable timescale to prepare for a united Ireland:
“I believe that we are going to see these referendums - and there have to be two bear in mind, north and south - in the coming years.
“Certainly within this decade, this decade of opportunity we are going to see constitutional change on the island of Ireland.
“I believe that the referendum will be possible within a five year time frame.
“But much more importantly I believe that the preparation needs to start now.
“There will be no prize for anyone who buried their head in the sand or who allowed even the prospect of a disorderly reunification process.
“We saw Brexit disorder, lack of planning, lack of understanding. We are not going to repeat those mistakes on the island of Ireland.”
Unity versus the cost of living
With counting still underway, Sinn Féin looks set to comfortably have beaten the DUP in first preference votes and should end up with more seats than any other rival party.
During the campaign the party’s Vice President, Michelle O’Neill, downplayed the issue of Irish unity and said that the cost of living crisis was the big election issue.
After a poll came out suggesting that only 30% wanted a united Ireland, while 45.3% wanted to stay in the United Kingdom, she admitted:
“I think it’s an interesting poll.
“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, I’m focused now on what I will do in health, I’m focused on what I’m going to do in the Executive on the other side of the election. I’m focused on what I will do with the economy brief. I’m focused on all of these things.
“Yes, there will come a day whenever we will vote on the constitutional question and I will bring my politics to that.”
The Good Friday Agreement says the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland should call a border poll “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.”
The last time such a poll took place was in 1973 - at the height of the Troubles - when 98.9% of voters opted to stay in the United Kingdom.
Nationalists boycotted the referendum and turnout was a low 59%.
Main image: Sinn Féin President Mary Lou McDonald and the patry's leader in Northern Ireland, Michelle O'Neill, at a rally. Picture by: Sasko Lazarov/RollingNews.ie