MacGill Summer School: Brexit has exposed ‘false construct’ of Border

Mary Lou McDonald says Irish unity very much on the political agenda

Mary Lou McDonald: ““Unionism no longer dominates. If it wishes to be in power it will be only on the basis of powersharing and equality”

Mary Lou McDonald: ““Unionism no longer dominates. If it wishes to be in power it will be only on the basis of powersharing and equality”


Brexit has created a constitutional earthquake and its aftershocks have exposed the fault lines of partition in Ireland, Sinn Féin’s deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald said at the MacGill Summer School on Wednesday night.

The Dublin TD said the Border was now laid bare as the “false construct it has always been”, and that its contradictions must now be dealt with.

“Partition has failed the test of time. Yet some tell us that the time is not right to talk about unity. Now is the time to plan for unity, to build support for unity, to challenge division, and build an Ireland for all our people,” said Ms McDonald.

She accused the DUP through its deal with the Conservatives of handing the Tories a “blank cheque on Brexit with their commitment to support legislation at Westminster – a blank cheque regardless of the impact on the North”.

Ms McDonald also criticised unionists over some of the July 11th bonfire displays.

“On the night of July 11th effigies of Martin McGuinness were burnt on unionist bonfires. Unionist leaders were silent. Posters of Sinn Féin and SDLP Assembly members were all set alight, as were those from the Alliance party. These are representatives elected by unionism’s neighbours and fellow citizens.

“We need to call out these actions for what they are. This is not colourful pageantry; it is the ugliest side of sectarianism. It is a hate crime, and it sucks the hope of future generations.”

Unionism tells us they want to share power with nationalists and republicans yet are complicit with this naked sectarianism,” said Ms McDonald.

No longer dominates

“Recent elections have thrown up real challenges for unionism and in particular the DUP. Unionism lost its majority in the Assembly elections. Its mandate has fallen below the 50 per cent in the Westminster elections. This was never meant to happen.

“Unionism no longer dominates. If it wishes to be in power it will be only on the basis of powersharing and equality.”

She again called for a Border poll, and said that Sinn Féin wanted to “openly and respectfully engage with unionism in the discussion of a united future – we want to discuss ending partition with every section of Irish society”.

Ms McDonald add that both Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael supported “Irish unity but criticise Sinn Féin for calling for a referendum on unity”.

“Both parties sustained the carnival of reaction that James Connolly predicted for partition.

“They locked up our women and sold their babies off in foreign lands, brutalised poor children, handed over public education and health services to religious orders, and gave the 1937 Constitution to the Catholic Church for sign off. The outworkings of all these failures are still felt today. But be very clear. Home rule is no longer Rome rule.”

She added that “politicians, media, the church, and business leaders – the so-called pillars of the State – no longer command the unquestioning support of citizens, and I believe we are all better for that”.

Ms McDonald said that “Irish unity is very much on the political agenda, and on the agenda of civic society”.

Positive values

She added, “What people want North and South is pretty much the same, a fair shake. Recognition of who they are, and reassurances that the positive values that bind their communities will not only be respected but also protected. Within this must be a reassurance that the Orange too will have its place. That it will be respected and its rights safeguarded.”

Ms McDonald concluded: “We are a small island. United we are stronger. Our diversity is our strength. There is no place for dogma and dominance. Partition was a carnival of reaction. Unity will be celebration of equality, prosperity and social justice.

“Brexit is coming, change is coming. All of us who want to see a prosperous, peaceful and united Ireland free from division and inequality need to stand together.”