Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald has insisted there has not been a rise in conflict in Northern Ireland in recent months.
A number of incidents in recent weeks including the use of bombs to target PSNI officers in the North has shone the spotlight on dissident activity once again.
Earlier this month police were attacked with petrol bombs as they carried out searches targeting dissident republicans in Derry.
But when questioned about the rise in violence in Northern Ireland, Ms Mcdonald said that it is nothing new, and that “small groups of people” have been trying to disrupt the peace for years.
“The conflict hasn’t intensified. That’s not to just say that there hasn’t been issues, not just over recent years but over many years, where small groups of people have sought to disrupt the peace," she told Independent.ie at the National Ploughing Championships in Fenagh, Co Carlow.
"That’s not a new thing. That’s being going on since the peace process itself."
Ms McDonald added that with Brexit, a discussion surrounding a border poll in Northern Ireland will inevitably come. To fail to prepare for that, she says, would be to the detriment of the Irish people.
“The conversation has started. Brexit in a very immediate way intensified that conversation because it throws a question mark over the Good Friday Agreement, the infrastructure, our stability, our economy.
“The thing that would cause instability and the risky thing to do is to not plan or prepare. Everybody knows that the issue of the border is up for discussion because of Brexit. You can’t sweep that under the mat or wish it away.
“The responsible thing to do that will actually avoid conflict and strife is to be orderly, to be organised, be inclusive and respectful and not to put your head in the sand.”
Ms McDonald also said the government is ignoring support for Irish unity despite a recent poll indicating a slight majority in favour of it.
The poll, published by Lord Ashcroft, shows that 46pc of 1,542 adults surveyed in the North would choose to join the Republic of Ireland, with 45pc saying they would vote to stay in the UK.
This breaks down to 51pc in favour of unification to 49pc against, when ‘don’t knows’ and those who say they would not vote are excluded.
Ms McDonald said the Fine Gael led government are not taking the rising support for Irish unity seriously.
“The government are not listening to that support,” she said.
“We are a uniting Ireland party. It is our strong view, and the experience reflects, that for over a century now, that partition has been a disaster.
“I believe that the government now needs to start preparing for transition, for a referendum on unity and for a new Ireland. Much of that work doesn’t have to be up in lights, it can be done quietly and methodically but it does need to be done.
“I think it’s actually irresponsible when very clearly the sands of history are moving and when it’s obvious that we are going to have a referendum on unity, I think it’s irresponsible not to prepare for that.
“Conversation is underway in the North in a very significant way. It would be very foolish and very irresponsible for us in the South to stick our heads in the sand.”
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