People in Ireland living in ‘dying days’ of partition, McDonald says

Sinn Féin leader tells US audience that Brexit ‘a product of narrow English nationalism’

Washington Correspondent

People in Ireland are living in the dying days of partition, Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald has told an audience in the United States.

In an address to the New York City Bar Association about Brexit on Thursday, Ms McDonald said it was very encouraging that the US continued to be so engaged with Ireland and understood that "the Good Friday Agreement was never the final destination in the journey that we are on".

In a presentation, where she received two standing ovations, she said the agreement would outlast British prime minister Boris Johnson.


She forecast that there would be a vote on Irish unification in five to 10 years and maintained discussion and preparation must take place in the meantime on issues such as infrastructure, healthcare, housing, economic policy and taxation arrangements that would apply in the future if the votes were carried.

Ms McDonald said she did not accept and would challenge any assertion that a move towards Irish unity would lead to violence. She said the Government and the Taoiseach “must move from being bystanders to persuaders for unity”.

As part of a wide ranging address she defended the Sinn Féin policy of MPs not taking seats at Westminster and argued that even if this policy had been dropped there would not have been sufficient numbers to stop Brexit.

She also supported the introduction of an Irish language Act in Northern Ireland and strongly opposed moves by the British government to introduce an amnesty in troubles-related cases in Northern Ireland.


Ms McDonald said Brexit was the outworking of Britain in denial. She described it as “a product of narrow English nationalism and a hankering for the days of Empire”.

"In 1962 then US secretary of state Dean Acheson reflected that 'Great Britain lost an empire and has yet to find it's role'. His words resonate to this day," she said. "Britain has lost its empire and Ireland, our peace agreements and prosperity are under threat because the current British government still fails to acknowledge that fundamental fact."

The Sinn Féin leader said the Tory government in London had dragged Northern Ireland out of the EU against the democratic vote of the people.

“Now Britain wishes to use Ireland as a bargaining chip, and ramp-ups interference and disruption in the north as a tactic in its confrontation with the EU,” she said. “Britain’s empire is gone but its legacy remains. We live with it in Ireland. Its scars the lives of many in our society.”

Pathway to unity

Ms McDonald said the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement provided a peaceful and democratic pathway to Irish unity.

“The Good Friday agreement was never the end point, it was never a final constitutional settlement. It is a framework, a set of rules for managing political differences today and tomorrow,” she said

“It asserts the primacy of politics over conflict. The rights of all over the interests of the few. That is why agreements made must be delivered. Anything less undermines the political process.

“That is why the voice of the US is so important. When Washington talks, Westminster listens. President (Joe) Biden made this crystal clear when he issued a formal diplomatic rebuke to Britain for failing to honour their agreement.”

Asked from the audience about issues such as the tricolour flag and the national anthem in a future Ireland, she said these would form part of the overall discussion.

Martin Wall

Martin Wall

Martin Wall is the former Washington Correspondent of The Irish Times. He was previously industry correspondent