Gerry Adams says Government has a duty to plan for Irish unity
DUP says former Sinn Féin leader’s call is ‘distraction” from SF’s poor election
Former Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams: ‘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’. Photograph: Liam McBurney/PA
Former Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams has said the Government has a duty to plan for Irish unity.
Writing in his weekly blog, Mr Adams expressed confidence a Border poll will be held and called on the Government to open up a consultation on unification.
“The debate about the future, about a new Ireland and the demand for a referendum on unity is growing,” he said.
Citing arguments why such a referendum must be held, Mr Adams said, “demographic and political changes in Northern society are also playing an important role in encouraging this debate”.
He said in the 2017 Assembly election unionist parties lost their majority for the first time since partition, while in the European election just past the combined nationalist vote was greater than that of the unionist parties, and only one unionist MEP was returned.
“This needs [to be] planned now. Not after the referendum. 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,” he said.
He added, “What accommodations are needed to persuade political unionism that a united Ireland can work for it? Key to this is the need for it to be an agreed shared Ireland. What happens to the political institutions established by the Good Friday agreement?”
“Winning support for a united Ireland is not just about persuading unionists although that is crucial,” said Mr Adams. “Everyone needs to be convinced of the advantages of unity – personal, economic, wages, health provision, environmental, cultural, peace, prosperity.”
He said there was a “constitutional imperative” to achieve a united Ireland. “There will be a referendum on Irish unity. I am confident of this. Winning that referendum is the biggest single challenge facing united Irelanders.”
However the DUP has responded dismissively to his statement. The DUP East Belfast MP Gavin Robinson accused Mr Adams of using his blog on a united Ireland as a distraction against Sinn Féin’s poor performances in the presidential, local and European elections in the Republic.
“Gerry Adams has been resurrected and wheeled out of retirement after his Sinn Féin successor has now been battered and bruised at elections in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland,” said Mr Robinson.
“Unionists shouldn’t be complacent about promoting the union and making Northern Ireland a home for everyone but equally they shouldn’t be spooked by a Gerry Adams united Ireland blog post. His comments are more to do with saving face after a bad SF electoral cycle than actually delivering a united Ireland,” he added.
“People want us to make Northern Ireland work by restoring a local government which will fix our roads, schools and hospitals. They do not want a divisive Border poll,” said Mr Robinson.
The SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said Mr Adams and Sinn Féin finally were realising “that a comprehensive plan is needed for Irish unity before any referendum”.
“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. Indeed, they have spent months attacking SDLP members for that view,” he said.
Added Mr Eastwood, “Let the conversation that we’re about to have be based on what’s best for people. Let it be a cross-community conversation on a vision for the future that reflects where we are and where we want to be. That’s the challenge that lies ahead.”