Referendum on united Ireland inevitable, says Michelle O’Neill

Republicans facing into ‘decade of opportunity’, Sinn Féin ardfheis in Derry hears

There is a ‘non-stop conversation’ under way across the island on a united Ireland, Sinn Féin deputy leader Michelle O’Neill said at her party’s ardfheis in Derry on Friday night. File photograph: Alan Betson

There is a ‘non-stop conversation’ under way across the island on a united Ireland, Sinn Féin deputy leader Michelle O’Neill said at her party’s ardfheis in Derry on Friday night. File photograph: Alan Betson

 

It is no longer a question of if, it is a question of when a referendum on a united Ireland will be held, the Sinn Féin deputy leader Michelle O’Neill asserted at her party’s ardfheis in Derry on Friday night.

Ms O’Neill told delegates they were facing into a “decade of opportunity” and there was now a “non-stop conversation” under way across the island on a united Ireland.

The ardfheis called on the Irish Government “to immediately plan for Irish unity” by establishing a “representative, all-Ireland citizen’s forum to debate, consult and plan for Irish unity”.

It urged the British government “to set out in clear and unambiguous terms the circumstance in which a British secretary of state will call a referendum on Irish unity”.

It also called on the Irish Government to “begin discussions with the European Union in relation to securing substantial financial and political support for Irish reunification as was provided for in the case of Germany”.

Ms O’Neill said unification was the best way for Northern Ireland to remain in the EU, claiming that the drive towards a Border poll was inexorable. “It’s no longer a question of if. It’s a question of when the referendum will be held,” she said.

‘Magnificent seven’

And referring to the December 12th Westminster general election, Ms O’Neill said Sinn Féin was aiming to return its “magnificent seven” of current MPs and was planning to add more MPs, including John Finucane who is battling to unseat the DUP’s Nigel Dodds in North Belfast.

Ms O’Neill repeated Sinn Féin aimed to try to restore the Northern Executive and Assembly early in 2020. She added, however: “If the Executive is to be credible then it must deliver on issues such as public sector pay, safe staffing levels in the health service, economic policies that deliver prosperity for all and that invests in rural communities, and an appropriate welfare mitigation package.

“To be credible all of the outstanding issues must be dealt with including an Irish Language Act and reform of the Petition of Concern. It must also deal with the legacy of the past.”

Ms O’Neill again accused the DUP of reaching an agreement with Sinn Féin on how to reinstate Stormont in February last year, but that party “regrettably walked off the pitch”.

“That is not a sustainable position,” she added. “The delivery of rights cannot be avoided. At the start of the incoming year, after years of campaigning, same-sex couples will be able to marry the one they love,” she said.

Referring to the liberalisation of abortion law by Westminster, Ms O’Neill said: “The injustice of women being criminalised has ended. There is now a consultation under way which Sinn Féin will help shape, to provide access to compassionate health care for all women.”