SF leader backs the Twelfth as public holiday in united Ireland

Mary Lou McDonald reacts to question on unity at TCD forum – ‘I think it is a good idea’

In the event of a united Ireland, Sinn Féin indicated its support for marking the loyalist occasion of the Twelfth as a  holiday. File photograph: PA

In the event of a united Ireland, Sinn Féin indicated its support for marking the loyalist occasion of the Twelfth as a holiday. File photograph: PA

 

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald has said she supports making July 12th a public holiday in a united Ireland.

Responding to a question from the audience at a seminar in Dublin on Wednesday, she said that when asked about Irish unity the usual questions are: “What about the anthem? What about the flag? What about a public holiday for the Twelfth of July, which I think is a good idea.”

She went on to say that what needed to happen was “not to rush. I’m not saying let’s gallop to the polls next week and have a referendum, that clearly would be farcical. But what I am saying is let’s not lose time now to start planning and discussing the practical bread-and-butter issues that matter.”

These included, she said, an Irish National Health Service and plans for education.

The Sinn Féin leader was speaking alongside DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson and Fine Gael TD Neale Richmond at the Good Summit seminar in Trinity College Dublin on Wednesday. The forum considered Ireland’s future with an audience comprised mainly of young people.

‘A long way to go’

Mr Donaldson said it was not time for a Border poll because it would be very divisive and would polarise the community in Northern Ireland.

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“I think it is evident from all the opinion polls that we’ve had [that] I don’t think there is a majority for change and, to be honest, we have many other priorities that we need to deal with,” he said. Among these, he added, was building reconciliation where there is “still a long way to go” in Northern Ireland.

“If we had a united Ireland tomorrow, it wouldn’t heal the wounds that were, and have, been created within Northern Ireland by over 30 years of a very deeply harmful conflict that occurred,” he said.

“Therefore instead of looking to have referendums on these issues shouldn’t we be looking towards healing and reconciliation, healing the wounds . . . and then talking about what a shared future in Northern Ireland really looks like?”

Mr Richmond said reconciliation “should be uncomfortable” and should involve uncomfortable conversations “to truly understand not only the difference of opinions but where there are shared opinions”.

He said the Irish Government had to play a proactive, positive and sometimes uncomfortable role in building a shared island.

Asked about Brexit and the Northern Ireland protocol, which is opposed by unionists because it places a customs and regulatory border between the North and the rest of the UK, Mr Donaldson replied that Sinn Féin needs to “listen to unionist concerns . . . around the protocol. I don’t believe that the way to resolve the issues around the protocol are to dismiss unionist concerns.”

What about the Irish language?

With regard to Irish language legislation in Northern Ireland, Ms McDonald said she hoped it would be introduced in the UK parliament in the next couple of weeks.

“Whether it’s language rights or other matters, it’s a really important thing in public life, particularly in the really unique powersharing arrangement that we have in the North, that when we sign off on agreements that we implement them,” she said.

“I hope that we can get to that point where rationally we argue the bit, we negotiate, we agree and then we implement. That’s the only rational way that we can do business.”

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