North’s nationalists have turned back on Westminster, says MP

Sinn Féin’s McCallion defends abstentionist policy as O’Neill urges respect for unionists

Sinn Féin leader in Northern Ireland Michelle O’Neill said republicanism and unionism “must reach a sustainable compromise through respectful dialogue, premised on anti-sectarianism”. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

Sinn Féin leader in Northern Ireland Michelle O’Neill said republicanism and unionism “must reach a sustainable compromise through respectful dialogue, premised on anti-sectarianism”. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

 

A Sinn Féin MP has staunchly defended the party’s Westminster abstentionist policy.

Foyle MP Elisha McCallion said that for decades “Westminster had turned its back on the people of the North. On June 8th, nationalists categorically turned their back on Westminster”.

Referring to the British general election she said that “the people of the North elected seven Sinn Féin MPs on an abstentionist policy.

“Nationalists in the North wanted representation on the island of Ireland.”

The first-time MP said that in the election the nationalist electorate of the North sent a clear message. “They see their future in an Irish context.”

Ms McCallion said: “Irish citizens in the North are increasingly looking to the Oireachtas as an arena to air their grievances and pursue their aspirations”.

“The Dublin Government has a cast-iron responsibility to these citizens.”

She told the Sinn Féin ardfheis: “It is long past time the Dublin Government implemented the commitment to holding a referendum on extending presidential voting rights to citizens in the North and amongst the diaspora.”

The time had come for MPs to be granted speaking and voting rights in the Dáil, she said.

Such speaking rights “raise the voice of all Irish citizens in the Dáil”, she added.

‘New relationship’

Earlier, Sinn Féin’s leader in the North Michelle O’Neill expressed confidence that unionists would be open to explore the prospect of a “new relationship on this island which does not threaten their Britishness”.

She said republicanism and unionism “must reach a sustainable compromise through respectful dialogue, premised on anti-sectarianism” that would move them beyond the current impasse.

Ms O’Neill said: “We must explore how we can accommodate each other’s aspirations in a manner that does not demand the surrender of cultural or traditional identity”.

She said that while Sinn Féin demanded the entitlement to persuade for their vision of a united Ireland “we are also open to engage with unionism on their vision for the future too”.

She challenged “united Irelanders” to persuade others and “to win hearts and minds to the merits of unification and how it is in all our best longer-term interests”.

One thing was certain, she said. “The political landscape is starting to dramatically change. The onus is on us to shape that change by organising and intelligently making the case for unity and for a referendum as set out in the Good Friday Agreement.”

Sinn Féin wants a referendum on unity within the next five years.

Parties who claimed to support a united Ireland “should bring forward their ideas and proposals on how they believe this objective can be achieved”.

She said the debate about unification should include the diaspora.

She called on Taoiseach Leo Varadkar to appoint a Minister of State with responsibility for developing strategies to advance Irish unity and to publish a green paper which identified the steps and measures for a successful transition to a united Ireland.

Ms O’Neill said Sinn Féin did not own the debate on a united Ireland. “However, it is our primary objective and we are clearly up for the debate because we are confident in our vision.”