On the centenary of the enactment of the Government of Ireland Act, which partitioned Ireland under British law, and with Brexit just days away, the former Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams has called for the Dublin government to do more to remove the border from the island.
Mr Adams also said the 26 County Taoiseach Micheal Martin needed to do more to convince unionists of the merits of a united Ireland.
“What Micheál Martin has to do is to reassure - and we have to do the same thing as Sinn Féin - to reassure those folks in the north, northern Protestants if I can use that term, that their future is secure, that their rights will be protected,” he said.
The act of partition, which created a border on the island for the first time, gained royal assent and became law on December 23 1920. A Six County parliament was created six months later.
Sinn Féin deputy leader Michelle O’Neill commented on the confluence of Brexit with the anniversary, arguing the choice between “inward-looking vision of Brexit Britain or the open inclusive vision of a New Ireland has never been more stark”.
“Partition has failed all the people of this island,” she said.
“Discrimination and state repression were the lived experience of nationalists and republicans in the northern state for successive generations.
“The Good Friday Agreement of 1998 revoked the Government of Ireland Act and has provided a peaceful democratic pathway to Irish unity.
“This, I believe, will become a reality during this decade of opportunity, where the freedom to choose our own future will be decided by the people on this island alone.
“It is time to begin a planned transition to Irish reunification, and national reconciliation must be at the heart of this transformational process.
“A new national dialogue has already begun about future constitutional change. The Irish government should accept its responsibility to facilitate that discourse.”
Irish unity campaigner Colin Harvey meanwhile called on the British Direct Ruler Brandon Lewis to spell out the circumstances under which he would call a border poll on Irish unity. Under the Good Friday Agreement, the London-based Tory currently has sole discretion on whether to hold a referendum on the reunification of Ireland.
The call comes amid pressure for the two governments in Dublin and London to plan for concurrent polls, north and south, once permission is forthcoming.
The professor of human rights law challenged Lewis to say what his intentions are for the referendum process and the basis for the British assertion “that the relevant test has not been met”. He also urges Lewis to explicitly offer the Six Counties an “option of return to the EU”.
Mr Harvey asked Lewis if he is prepared to hold a referendum in which the north of Ireland would decide whether or not to remain in the European Union. He noted that the outcome of a border poll “connects to automatic EU return for a region where a majority of people voted to remain”.
The Brexit deal agreed before Christmas fell short of meeting the demand of the majority in the north of Ireland to remain within the EU, although it allows the area to remain within the EU Customs Union. Commentators believe Brexit will inevitably trigger further pressure for referendums in both Scotland and the north of Ireland, so that both nations can remain entirely within the EU.