Now not the time for Border poll on unity, says McDonald

Partition should be addressed ‘in a way that maximises consent’, says Sinn Féin leader

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar restated his view that it is the wrong time for a Border poll.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar restated his view that it is the wrong time for a Border poll.


A poll on Irish unity should not be held while uncertainty around Brexit remains, Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald has said.

The Sinn Féin leader said she disagreed with those who argued that a hard or chaotic Brexit should be the trigger for a referendum on unification.

“The obvious thing would be to say, ‘well, have the Border poll and remove the Border. If the Border is the problem, simply take it away’. And there is a certain logic to that,” she said.

“I am very, very conscious that you can’t come at this issue in that simplistic way. It’s very important when we come to addressing the issue of partition we do it in the best possible climate and we do it in a way that maximises consent.

“It is not my preferred option or our preferred option that we deal with the issue of Irish unity in a climate that is unsteady or unstable or chaotic, in other words in the context of a crash Brexit or a very hard Brexit.”

Ms McDonald said the Border poll question should be put to one side until the “dangers” posed by Brexit are mitigated.

“I would prefer . . . that we have sequencing that firstly delivers a level of economic and social certainty, in as much we can be certain, and stability and from that base we then continue the conversation about Irish unity,” she said.

Ms McDonald also said unionists who failed to countenance the possibility of a united Ireland in the future were burying their heads in the sand.

She was reacting to the fallout from remarks by former Democratic Unionist leader Peter Robinson. He said unionists should prepare for what would happen if they were to lose a future Border poll.

Mr Robinson’s party colleague, Sammy Wilson, was among several prominent unionists to criticise the former first minister’s comments. Mr Wilson accused him of giving encouragement to the republican narrative.

Ms McDonald said it was “common sense” to look at possible constitutional changes, even if you did not support them.

“Peter Robinson certainly is not raising a banner for Irish republicanism or for a united Ireland. But I think it’s good to hear a senior unionist talk in terms that are simply grounded in realism.”

Reflecting on what accommodations might be made for unionists if a united Ireland was to come to pass, the Sinn Féin president also indicated she would be prepared to accept a different flag and national anthem.

“I, as with every other person who argues for a new united Ireland, will honour the flag of that island, will honour the dawning of that new opportunity and I would be proud to stand shoulder to shoulder with my fellow citizens, irrespective of religious creed, political background cultural background, irrespective of everything that has gone before. And I would proudly sing the anthem or anthems of that Ireland.”

‘Contentious issues’

Ms McDonald has urged the Orange Order to think again after it snubbed her offer of a meeting. “At this stage, in the year 2018, the notion that you are not going to talk to your neighbour, the notion that you are not going to talk to somebody in political leadership, that you are not going to tease out contentious issues, is simply not a runner.”

Earlier on Monday, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar restated his view that it is the wrong time for a Border poll.

“I think it’s not helpful to be talking about a Border poll in Northern Ireland,” he said. “We are in a situation whereby there is huge uncertainty in Northern Ireland because people don’t know what’s going to happen in terms of Brexit, but also the Northern Ireland parties haven’t been able to come together and form an executive. For me to start talking about a Border poll in that context wouldn’t be helpful.” – PA