Sunday 18 August 2019

'Referendum on unity must be inclusive process' - Gerry Adams suggest border poll shouldn't be rushed into

Sinn Féin's Mary Lou McDonald, Gerry Adams and Michelle O'Neill. Photo: PA
Sinn Féin's Mary Lou McDonald, Gerry Adams and Michelle O'Neill. Photo: PA
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

SINN Féin leader Gerry Adams has softened his party’s approach to a border poll, suggesting it shouldn’t be rushed into as a result of Brexit.

As the post-mortem over Sinn Féin’s disaster local and European elections in the Republic continues, Mr Adams has penned a blog in which he says “phases of transition” would be needed before a 32-county Republic can be achieved.

He says a plan for how a united Ireland would operate needs to be developed before a referendum.

The measured tone is in contrast with his successor as party president, Mary Lou McDonald, who has repeatedly said Brexit should used as a reason to call a unity poll.

Ms McDonald has insisted it is "irresponsible" for the Irish government to say a border poll should not be held at the moment due to uncertainty about Brexit

At a event in January, Ms McDonald said "now is the time" for one to take place.

"History is unfolding - the next chapter is being written.”

But Mr Adams said the “one big lesson” from Brexit is that a referendum shouldn’t be rushed.

“A referendum without a plan is stupid. So a referendum on unity must be set in a thoughtful inclusive process which sets out a programme of sustainable options. Including phases of transition,” he wrote.

The Louth TD said those who support a united Ireland realise that it must be “a warm house  for unionism, built on a foundation of equality and inclusiveness”.

But TUV leader Jim Allister poured scorn on Mr Adams' border poll call. "After its poor showing in the Republic's elections, Sinn Fein has clearly decided to wheel out Adams to bang the unity drum again," he said.

"It is a matter of regret, though, that in his attempt to boost flagging republican morale, he was enabled to draw succour from the foolish comments of a DUP peer and from a former leader. It is for the DUP to answer for their own."

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood also questioned the motivation behind Mr Adams’s intervention online.

Sinn Féin lost dozens of council seats in the elections last month. And despite taking a hardline on Brexit, two out of its three sitting MEPs in the Republic were voted out.

Mr Adams does say the Irish government needs to “to open up consultations” on how a united Ireland would operate.

“It needs to consult - to ask what kind of united Ireland do we all want? There needs to be a process of dialogue.  What shape should that dialogue take?” he asked.

“There needs to be a transition phase after a referendum which votes for unity.

What form and how long should that transition take?”

SDLP Leader Colum Eastwood said he was “glad to hear” that Sinn Fein is shifting position.

 “Their initial reaction to my suggestion that calling for a border poll with no plan or idea on how it would be delivered would be madness was entirely negative. Indeed, they have spent months attacking SDLP members for that view,” he said.

“It has taken time, as these things often do, but I’m glad that Sinn Féin leaders are now coming to the SDLP position.

“People across this island are alive to the constitutional change that is unfolding in front of us. The Scottish people are about to embark on a new conversation about independence, it is likely that Boris Johnson will soon be the British Prime Minister. Old political certainties and old majorities are no more. On an island of many political minorities, the only option is to build a broad coalition for change.”

Mr Eastwood said Scottish Independent campaigners compiled a 600 page manifesto outlining what health services, schools, the economy and investment would look like in their new Scotland.

“And even then, they fell just short. Irish Nationalism must learn that lesson. We must now put in the hard yards to persuade our friends and neighbours that their interests are best served in a reconciled and prosperous new Ireland. We must spill our sweat to create that vision,” he said.

Online Editors

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