Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald expects a referendum on Irish unity within a decade, believing that Irish reunification “has to be done in an orderly, planned, democratic and peaceful manner”.
Speaking in a wide-ranging interview with Germany’s Der Spiegel magazine, the TD rejected the idea that the economic price associated with a united Ireland could be a deterrent, given the trillions German reunification had cost.
“Irish reunification will cost a fraction of that,” she said. “We live on a small, little island. Our border is virtually invisible anyhow. If Brexit had a silver lining – and you have to search for it, believe me – it has had the effect of boosting trade between the north and the south, and quickening the integration of the Irish economy. I believe reunification will make us richer, not poorer.”
Ms McDonald defended the gains of the Belfast Agreement ahead of its 25th anniversary and said that unrest related to the Northern Ireland Protocol comes in a different context to protest in previous decades in the North.
“We haven’t seen anything like the types of mobilisations that you would’ve had 30, 40 years ago in northern society,” she said. “Things are remarkably stable, the collective appetite is for good order, democracy and, above all else, peace. Nobody wants to turn the clock back to the past.”
She was evasive on questions related to whether she would welcome the end of the United Kingdom and on justifications for “the armed struggle of the IRA”.
Invited to provide reassurance to unionists facing the prospect of a united Ireland, she said there were “no circumstances” in which Sinn Féin would stand for discrimination of unionists along the lines that “Catholics and nationalists suffered in the North”. She added that for many concrete issues, such as healthcare, would be more important when considering support for unification than symbolic issues, such as flag and anthem.
“What we can guarantee, as the basis of a new reunified Ireland, is a society built on full and equal citizenship for everyone,” she said. “And in the case of our unionist friends, they are now British living in a partitioned Ireland. In the future, they would be British in a united Ireland. We have no right to steal people’s identity.”
Lighter moments also featured in the interview, with the Sinn Féin leader revealing that King Charles had written to her when she contracted Covid-19 in 2021. And questioned on whether her middle-class Dublin background and aversion to Guinness made her a surprising candidate to lead the republican movement, she shot back icily: “Drinking Guinness is not a requirement for political leadership in Ireland”.