'Celebrating the 'Twelfth' across Ireland should be on the table in Border poll,' declares McDonald
Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald is willing to put celebrating the Twelfth of July across the island of Ireland on the table in talks about a future Border poll.
Ms McDonald told the Irish Independent "everything should be on the table" when asked specifically about the Ulster Protestant celebration of William of Orange's victory at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690.
"I'll tell you how we do it, we do it by having them [unionists] front and centre in the conversation and asking them, because I would be absolutely astonished if for people of a unionist persuasion the issue around the Twelfth of July was not raised," she said.
"We, more than any other political party in the Oireachtas, are used to working with, living with, dealing with our unionist neighbours and the Twelfth of July is very widely celebrated."
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Ms McDonald's comments were made before the current controversy over the now-postponed State commemoration of the Royal Irish Constabulary and Dublin Metropolitan Police. Sinn Féin have led calls for the event to be cancelled altogether amid concerns it amounts to celebrating the Black and Tans.
While acknowledging Sinn Féin supporters may not favour marking the Twelfth, which is a public holiday in Northern Ireland, Ms McDonald believes people will "surprise themselves" with what they find acceptable in a united Ireland.
"Generally speaking, people are decent and reasonable and they want a good life for themselves and for their families and they are happy to accommodate and respect their neighbours so long as that accommodation and respect comes back to them," she said. "They're kind of the go-to issues when people talk about Irish unity, and that's fine. Bring all of that to the table. Let's talk about it."
Ms McDonald rejected criticism of her party's demand for Border poll preparations to begin immediately. "I think the responsible thing to do is to structure that conversation because it's happening everywhere," she said.
She said a unity referendum by 2025 was a "deliverable, reasonable" time-line and preparations "need to start now" by setting up a forum or citizens' assembly.
She said all-island healthcare is a major issue for those she speaks to about unity and wants to set a date in any programme for government talks after the next election.
Her two years as Sinn Féin leader have been marred by electoral setbacks, but Ms McDonald cited the by-election win in Dublin Mid-West as evidence she is "turning the ship".
While critics claim she is not in control and Sinn Féin is still run out of west Belfast, she insisted Gerry Adams "doesn't pull my strings, nobody's pulling my strings".
Ms McDonald believes the election will be in February and said Sinn Féin will make a call on whether to table a motion of no confidence in the Government when the Dáil returns next week.
Ms McDonald admitted it "would be a stretch" for her to be Taoiseach but added: "I refuse to bow down to this politics that just makes the assumption that it has to be Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael."
She said Sinn Féin wants to be part of the next government. But Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil are less likely to shift their opposition to this given Ms McDonald also declined to express regret for proclaiming "up the rebels" and "tiocfaidh ár lá" when she took over as leader.
"No," she said when asked about using militant Republican language. "Up the rebels."