Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald has called for “partnership” with unionists in helping her party to achieve its goal of a united Ireland.
Speaking at an Easter Rising commemoration in Belfast yesterday, Ms McDonald insisted people from a unionist tradition must have an “equal part” in building what she described as “the new Ireland”.
Addressing a large crowd of republicans that gathered in Milltown Cemetery for the first time in three years due to Covid-19 restrictions, she urged unionists to “walk this journey with us”.
“To those of a unionist tradition I say sincerely, we seek partnership with you,” she said.
“A future of equality and freedom belongs to you. A future of progress and change belongs to you. A future of prosperity and opportunity belongs to you. It is not for anybody to invite you in; that future is already yours. It is about you, it is of you, it is for you.
Ms McDonald continued: “British government after British government has disrespected and failed you, time and again.
“Imagine instead the liberating possibility of full freedom to make all decisions here, in a parliament here, for the people who live here…Walk this journey with us. This is the decade of opportunity where we have the freedom to determine our future. There is so much to gain.”
The Dublin Central TD described next month’s Assembly election as the “most important in a generation” and said that the “democratic test for the leaders of political unionism will be if they accept the will of the people”.
Successive opinion polls have put Sinn Féin on course to be the largest party following the May 5th election, with Michelle O’Neill forecast to become the first nationalist to head up Northern Ireland’s government.
The DUP has refused to confirm if it will, in the event of that outcome, take the position of deputy first minister in the joint office and can therefore block the formation of a new powersharing executive.
Ms Mc Donald told crowds that “the people will decide this election”.
“They will decide who occupies the office of First Minister..There is not an office in this land that is off-limits or the sole preserve of one group. Those days are gone and good riddance,” she said. “Democracy must prevail on terms set by the people, not by the DUP or by anyone else.”
Her comments came as DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson claimed that a Sinn Féin election victory would help it to deliver on its objective for a referendum on Irish unity - and that polling day was a “battle for Northern Ireland itself”.
In his Easter message to DUP colleagues, he said the outcome of the election will “set the direction of the country for the next decade”.
“Voters have a clear choice between our plan for fixing health, helping working families with the cost-of-living crisis, and growing our economy within the Union, and Sinn Fein’s divisive border poll plan,” he wrote.
During her speech, Ms McDonald also called on the Irish Government to set up a Citizens’ Assembly to discuss constitutional change in an “orderly, peaceful and democratic way”.
“There is an onus on the Irish government to urgently establish a Citizens’ Assembly to discuss, debate and plan for the immense possibilities the future holds,” she said.
“However, in the event that Micheál Martin or Leo Varadkar continue to bury their heads in the sand let me give a clear, unequivocal commitment that a Sinn Féin-led government in Dublin will establish that Citizens’ Assembly.”
Separately, police have confirmed an investigation is underway into suspected criminal offences during another republican Easter Sunday parade on Sunday.
The event, organised by the Irish Republican Socialist Party (IRSP), left Dunville Park on the Falls Road at around 11.30am. It not was not part of the main parade to Milltown Cemetery.
The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) observed the event using officers on the ground and by police helicopter, and said its investigation is on the basis of evidence gathered.
“We will now review the footage and on the basis of initial observations we have commenced a criminal investigation in relation to suspected offences during the course of the parade.
“As is normal for notified parades we will also prepare a report to the Parades Commission on the conduct of the parade.” (additional reporting – PA)