Sinn Féin ‘willing to look at alternatives to united Ireland’

Adams says issue not about dragging Unionists into united Ireland, but a different relationship

Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams. File photograph: Collins

Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams. File photograph: Collins

 

Sinn Féin is prepared to consider alternative forms of governance for the North than a united Ireland, according to party leader Gerry Adams.

He said Sinn Féin wanted to see a real republic on the island of Ireland but would consider other forms of governance as an interim measure. “We’d prefer a unitary State but can we look at other methods? Yes, absolutely,” he said.

Mr Adams was speaking following comments on Monday by Taoiseach Enda Kenny suggesting that a future Border poll, on the North’s status with the United Kingdom, may play a part in Brexit negotiations .

Speaking as the party’s ard comhairle (national executive) met in Dublin on Saturday Mr Adams added: “Can we be open to other suggestions either as interim or transitional measures or as a form of governance for the whole island? Yes of course we can.”

The Louth TD said he agreed with the Taoiseach on the targets Mr Kenny had set “to defend the vote of the people in the North; to minimise the negative effects to the economy and the Border; to defend the Good Friday Agreement; and to keep a line open to the British government in terms of all of this”.

Calling on Mr Kenny to show “real leadership on the North” however, he said “he is missing the heartbeat of what is going on here, because the fact is the majority of people in the North voted for Remain”.

Even though DUP leader Arlene Foster had been negative about the Taoiseach’s call for a Border poll and a national forum on the North’s status , her position was “entirely predictable”.

Mr Kenny was conditional and qualified about it but Mr Adams said he had no problem with that. However the Sinn Féin leader said, “he flip-flopped.”

Reimagined

There was a real opportunity to discuss a new, reimagined confident Ireland. “A lot of Unionists are concerned about very negative consequences of being dragged out of the EU – people in business, people in agriculture” and in other sectors.

“It isn’t a matter of dragging them into a united Ireland but it is a matter of thinking about new relationships and they are thinking about new relationships.”

Mr Adams said he was not talking about a Border poll. “What is required is a consistent, strategic position that doesn’t have to be in your face.” The position should be carefully, thoughtfully arrived at and the Government should then ensure “it’s quietly pursued”.

When Sinn Féin called for a Border poll up to six years ago, “I said we should have a debate on all of the issues and that’s what we’re doing now and that’s what we need to sustain.

“But we need to go beyond the rhetoric and actually sit down and think about it and try to get all-party agreement on different measures, which would make the whole prospect, which is achievable, more achievable in the short-term.”

A lot of people in the North, he said, remarked on the fact that “the Taoiseach and the Fianna Fáil leader were fulsome in their support for Scotland.

“It took them about a month to come around and say something positive about the North. That vote in the North (to remain in the EU) has to be respected.”

When it was put to Mr Adams that his comments had been all about a border poll, which other parties believed was a distraction, he said “if we don’t stress these positions we wouldn’t have the debate that’s now going on”.

He noted that “no one blinked” when British prime minister Theresa May “stressed her unionist credentials”.

She was quite right to assert her position. “We need our Government equally to assert its position. Why would unionism think about a united Ireland if political leaders here are stuck in a partitionist mindset, a 26 country mindset?”

He said “if you want a situation to move forward – some of us are in the vanguard on this, others have a more dilatory approach.

“But what is required is consistency and this isn’t just a matter of six counties joining 26 it’s a matter of reimagining Ireland, of a genuinely new Ireland.

“And that means those of use in this State have to think of how to make the issue of Irish unity more attractive not just for Unionists but for everybody.”

However he said he had no interest in attracting Ms May on the issue of unity. “But I am interested in attracting Arlene Foster”.

The Sinn Féin president said he also agreed with Mr Kenny “in however you describe it, a national conversation, whether it’s a forum or some other island process”.

“So they need to just knuckle down and get the detail of all of that then we need to look at our health service, our housing crisis and convince people here and in the North that we can afford a united Ireland.”