Mary Lou McDonald calls for Dublin to convene forum to plan for Irish unity
It is ‘arrogant’ to shout down unity referendum, says SF leader
Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald (left) and deputy leader Michelle O’Neill at ‘Beyond Brexit - The Future of Ireland’ event in Beflast on Saturday. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA
Sinn Féin president Mary Lou McDonald has called for the Government to convene a forum to begin planning for Irish unity.
“The biggest mistake - and most reckless course of action - is for leaders to set their face against the inevitable and to try to deny the people their democratic right to define their future,” she told up to 1,500 people who attended the conference in Belfast’s Waterfront Hall.
“It is irresponsible and arrogant for a Dublin government to shout down any prospect of a unity referendum,” she said.
“The responsible thing to do is to play a part in shaping change and engage in the debate that is under way,” added the Sinn Féin leader.
“I want to, again, challenge the government in Dublin to convene a forum to begin the planning for Irish unity,” she said.
Ms McDonald described the conference as reflecting the “confident, assertive and creative voices of progressive Irish nationalism”.
“There are no ‘little Irelanders’ here and we will not tolerate the narrowness of the Brexiteers. We will not tolerate a policy of isolation imposed by Brexiteers,” she said.
“We insist that the British State honour its obligations to Ireland under international law. We insist our rights are recognised and our voice heard. The people here voted to remain in the European Union and that vote should be respected,” she added.
Ms McDonald said Sinn Féin acknowledged that there must be reform of the European Union while adding, “We want to change Europe; not leave it.”
The Sinn Féin president said that the Government must insist on the backstop because “no backstop means a hardening of the border, the undermining of the Good Friday Agreement, the loss of rights, continued uncertainty and instability”
“That is why the Irish Government cannot, and must not, blink at this time,” she said.
SDLP leader Colum Eastwood told the conference that people who “believe in a new Ireland need to offer a credible and positive vision”.
“We will not protest our way into one. Those who have deliberately inflamed the narrative that unionism as a whole is unchanging, don’t believe in rights, and can’t be worked with - those people are wrong,” he said.
“That cannot be the basis of our vision - this is not 1968 and we are not second class citizens,” he added.
“We do not seek a new Ireland because we are victims of an old oppression - we seek a new Ireland because it offers all of us opportunity. That is the only basis through which it will come to pass,” said the SDLP leader.
“Unionism should have nothing to fear in a conversation based on persuasion and consent. We all have a duty to tell our unionist neighbours: ‘You belong to this place every bit as much as I do - therefore you have the very same right to shape the future of this island’”, added Mr Eastwood
“My appeal to unionism is this - try to convince us of your vision for the future and we’ll try to convince you of ours - and then in time let the people decide. That’s the way politics is supposed to work - it’s how it works at its best.”
And in reference to the Fianna Fáil-SDLP partnership announced this week Mr Eastwood characterised it as a step towards creating John Hume’s vision of an agreed Ireland”.
Fianna Fáil TD Dara Calleary told the conference that his party was excited by the “energy and possibilities” presented by the new partnership. He said that the large attendance and the energy and “buzz” of the conference reminded him of the spirit of 1998 at the time of the Belfast Agreement.