Neutrality and Palestine would top foreign policy of Sinn Féin government - McDonald

Party president was speaking in Brussels on a visit to discuss the Northern Ireland protocol

Asserting Ireland’s military neutrality and challenging an “apartheid regime” in Israel would be top foreign policy priorities under a potential future Irish government led by Sinn Féin, Mary Lou McDonald has said.

The Sinn Féin president was speaking in Brussels on a visit to discuss the Northern Ireland protocol with the European Commission and MEPs, and was asked to name her top three foreign policy issues aside from getting support for Irish unity, to illustrate how her government would differ from those of the past.

“A conversation has started around security policy, around how that advances at a European level. We will be very firmly asserting Ireland’s position as a non-aligned, as a military neutral,” Ms McDonald replied.

“We want to see that position recognised and embraced at a European level and internationally, not treated as an inconvenience.”

Current opinion polls suggest the left-wing republican party is heading towards government for the first time in the Republic, after it took the most number of seats in Northern Ireland’s executive in a breakthrough election last month.

A potential Sinn Féin Irish government “will be very firm on issues around self-determination... in particular the question of Palestine”, Ms McDonald continued.

“It is clear that we have an apartheid regime, that the Israeli state actively confiscates land, actively discriminates and oppresses Palestinian citizens daily. I think Europe needs to be honest about that, and I think we need to exert maximum international pressure,” she said.

“I won’t elaborate on the Irish experience of colonisation and partition and conflict and all of that, but that’s where we come from. So Irish foreign policy has to be true to that tradition, not in a passive way, in a very active way.”

Finally, Sinn Féin would advocate for a European system that is “is absolutely undeniably in in the service of its citizens”, Ms McDonald said.

McDonald travelled to Brussels with the party’s First Minister designate Michelle O’Neill to carry the message that the power-sharing executive should be established as soon as possible.

Ms O’Neill said the protocol was working, that issues of implementation could be resolved, and praised the approach of the Commission towards Northern Ireland’s post-Brexit arrangements, saying “the British government are absolutely the problem” in making progress on the issue.

“The economy in the North is actually outperforming that in Britain, and I would suggest that perhaps what the British government would like to cover up,” she told journalists.

The two went to European Commission headquarters where they met the vice president and Brexit point man Maroš Šefčovič, who was “mainly in listening mode” and “keen to get a first-hand perspective of the issues on the ground”, a Commission spokesman said.

He has proposed to meet all leaders of the main political parties in Northern Ireland, according to the spokesman.

The Sinn Féin representatives also held talks with a variety of MEPs including the chair of the parliament’s security and defence subcommittee Nathalie Loiseau. “Protecting the Good Friday Agreement is a priority,” the senior French MEP from the party of President Emmanuel Macron wrote on Twitter, sharing a photograph with the Sinn Féin leaders.

Naomi O’Leary

Naomi O'Leary

Naomi O’Leary is Europe Correspondent of The Irish Times