Friends of Sinn Féin places ads in US newspapers calling for referendum on Irish unity

New York Times and Washington Post will carry half-page ads organised by party

A new advertisement campaign calling for a referendum on Irish unity will be rolled out in several US newspapers today, as the Friends of Sinn Féin organisation seeks to capitalise on Irish-American support for the reunification of Ireland.

Both the New York Times and the Washington Post will carry half-page ads under the title “A United Ireland – Let the people have their say.”

A similar ad will run in Irish-American publications like the Irish Echo as America prepares to mark St Patrick’s Day next week.

“The Good Friday [Belfast] Agreement provides for a referendum on Irish Unity. It is for the people to determine their future,” it states, appealing to the Irish government to “promote and plan for unity.

“As Americans, we call upon our government and public representatives to urge the British government to set the date for the Unity Referendum.”

The ad campaign, organised by Friends of Sinn Féin, is supported by a number of Irish-American groups, including the Ancient Order of Hibernians, the Irish American Unity Conference and the James Connolly Irish American Labor Coalition.

“With your support we can be the first generation of Americans to visit a free and united Ireland,” it states.

The high-profile ad campaign organised by Sinn Féin's US fundraising arm, is indicative of growing efforts by Sinn Féin and some Irish-American groups to highlight what they see is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to secure a referendum on Irish unity. The emergence of tensions over Brexit, and in particular constitutional questions over Northern Ireland, has renewed focus on the North in the United States in recent years.

Former Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams told supporters last year in a virtual call that Irish unity was now a "doable project," urging Irish-America to "come forward, lobby" and be active in the campaign.

The ad campaign comes a week before Taoiseach Micheál Martin will hold a bilateral virtual meeting with US president Joe Biden to mark St Patrick's Day – the first meeting between the two men since Mr Biden's inauguration.

Sinn Féin has accused the Irish government of dragging its feet on committing to a Border poll.

Party leader Mary Lou McDonald welcomed the move by Irish-American groups to call for a referendum.

“Irish America has been central to the signing and safeguarding of the Good Friday Agreement,” she said, noting that the “central principle of the Agreement is the right of the people to determine their constitutional future. A unity referendum is the measure of that right and an essential commitment of the Agreement.”

Filings lodged with the US government showed Friends of Sinn Féin raised $295,000 (€262,000) in the six-month period to April last year – the vast majority of which came from an annual fundraising dinner held each November.

Brexit agreement

The focus on Irish unity comes ahead of a meeting today between foreign Minister Simon Coveney and EU commissioner Maros Sefcovic and the Friends of Ireland caucus on Capitol Hill amid concern in Washington about Britain's decision to delay the implementation of a key part of the Brexit agreement.

The inclusion in the briefing of the European Commission vice-president – who is charged with overseeing the trade deal agreed with Britain last year – is an indication of a concerted effort by Brussels to highlight concerns about Britain's commitment to the Brexit deal, at the highest levels in Washington.

The Friends of Ireland caucus is an influential bi-partisan group of congress members which was instrumental in securing US political support of the peace process in the 1980s and 1990s. It is chaired by Congressman Richard Neal, a Massachusetts Democrat who also chairs the Ways and Means Committee which has power over trade deals – including any future UK-US agreement.

Britain announced last week to unilaterally extend the grace period for post-Brexit checks on some goods entering Northern Ireland from Britain until October 1st – a move that has alarmed Dublin and Brussels.

Mr Coveney said that he "strongly advised" Northern Ireland secretary Brandon Lewis against the unilateral decision to extend the grace period, and Mr Sefcovic has said that Brussels will initiate legal action "very soon."