Poll on Irish unity closer than ever, says O’Neill

Sinn Féin vice-president urges Dublin Government to make preparations for referendum

The Sinn Féin vice-president has said a referendum on Irish unity is "closer than we have ever been previously" and urged the Government in Dublin to begin planning for a united Ireland.

Speaking to Sky News on Sunday morning, Michelle O’Neill said that “now is the time for them to make that preparation.

“Let’s not fall into the traps that have been fallen into in terms of Brexit. Make the preparation, let’s start to have a healthy conversation about the things that matter everyday to people,” she said.

Under the Belfast Agreement, a referendum on Irish unity can only be called the Northern Secretary, when it appears likely than it would be approved by a majority in the North and the South.


Ms O’Neill, who was the North’s deputy first minister until first minister Paul Givan’s resignation, also accused the UK government of putting the Brexit agreement “in jeopardy” and said unionist leaders in the North had “conflated” trading issues posed by Brexit with issues of unionist identity.

“I think unfortunately for the unionist people, for that wider civic society, the unionist leaders have actually conflated the issue of the protocol and Brexit, a mess which they single-handedly delivered alongside their friends in the Tories,” she said.

“But they have conflated that issue of identity with the issue of trade, which comes about as a direct result of Brexit. “There are two distinctly different things.”

Unionist parties are opposed to the Northern Ireland protocol – the part of the Brexit withdrawal agreement which avoided a hard border on the island of Ireland by placing an economic border in the Irish Sea – because they argue it is damaging the North economically and undermines its constitutional position as part of the UK.

The DUP leader, Jeffrey Donaldson, withdrew the first minister from the Northern Executive earlier this month as part of his party's opposition to the protocol.

The move meant the deputy first minister also ceased to hold office and the Executive cannot function. Other Ministers remain in post but cannot take new, significant or controversial decisions.

Meanwhile, the DUP MP Sammy Wilson at the weekend accused some loyalists of attempting to "manufacture disunity where none exists" after he was loudly booed and jeered as he addressed a loyalist rally against the protocol on Friday.

Mr Wilson was repeatedly interrupted as he attempted to deliver a speech at the event at Markethill in Co Armagh.

He went to on accuse TUV leader Jim Allister, who also spoke at the event, of "whipping up an anti-DUP sentiment" and said "shows of disunity will hearten Brussels and undermine the cause we seek to advance".

In response Mr Allister said his party was “not responsible” for the public perception of the DUP’s stance on the protocol, “especially after foolish talk about ‘the best of both worlds’.

“If Sammy Wilson thinks unwarranted personal attacks on me helps his party’s cause, that is a matter for him and the DUP” but how this “helps the stance against the protocol is difficult to discern”.

In a letter to party members the Mr Donaldson said the party’s critics were seeking to undermine unionist unity “for purely party political reasons” and they needed to “wise up and recognise that our strength is in our unity”. Additional reporting – PA.

Freya McClements

Freya McClements

Freya McClements is Northern Editor of The Irish Times