Support for Irish unity on St Patrick’s Day

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Unionists will be in short supply at the traditional White House celebrations for St Patrick’s Day after DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson and UUP leader Doug Beattie both pulled out.

Beattie blamed illness for his cancellation, but Donaldson’s decision to pull out “to tackle the cost of living crisis” was clearly motivated the looming Assembly election, due to be held on May 5, and his desire to appeal to loyalist hardliners.

Sinn Fein president Mary Lou McDonald and Stormont leader Michelle O’Neill have already travelled to New York and Washington where they have been meeting with Congressional leaders and members of the Biden administration.

Ms McDonald gave a speech on ‘Irish unity in our time’ at Fordham University in New York on Monday. She said that the outbreak of conflict in Europe reminded us that peace, self-determination and sovereignty are precious and can never be taken for granted.

“Ireland understands the damaging and divisive legacy wrought by colonisation, occupation and the denial of self-determination,” she said.

“We understand too, how priceless is the peace so hard won. How sacred is the peace process that shaped and delivered the historic Good Friday Agreement.”

McDonald also said she still believes a border poll will be held in the next five to ten years.

“The US has played a unique role in our road to nationhood. Walk with us now as we travel the final length of that journey. We are living in the end days of partition. The momentum behind Irish Unity is unprecedented,” she told the crowd, stating: “In the North, the unionist absolute electoral majority is gone. It is not coming back.”

Although opposed by a unionist minority, reunification could also tackle the disputes created by Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union.

Speaking at an event at the US Council on Foreign Relations earlier on Monday, Ms McDonald said when it came to Brexit, Britain had underestimated the broad consensus in American opinion to “peace in Ireland and indeed to unity in Ireland”.

“London totally misunderstood and still misunderstands” that leaders on Capitol Hill are “on top” of the Irish question, she said, adding that the fact Biden’s family ancestor hail from Mayo and Louth “doesn’t do any harm”.

Congressman Richard Neal, who’s Chair of the Ways and Means Committee in the US, had also been an incredible ally, as has the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, said McDonald.

Even in the midst of the crisis in Ukraine and with the focus very much on how to resolve that situation, there will still be a focus this week in the US on securing the Good Friday Agreement, said McDonald.

Ensuring that Ireland is not the “collateral damage of the Brexit process” is also “very much up front and centre in the minds of very senior leadership figures here”, she said.

The “great beauty” of Ireland’s support in the US, is that it comes from both sides of the aisle, with both Republicans and Democrats having Ireland’s back, she added.

 

* The Taoiseach Micheál Martin has tested positive for Covid-19 in Washington DC late on Wednesday night, leading to the likely cancellation of his traditional St Patrick’s Day meeting with US President Joe Biden at the White House.

Mr Martin had been due to join a series of events at the White House and Capitol Hill, including a breakfast hosted by US vice president Kamala Harris, the Speakers Lunch on Capitol Hill, a bilateral between the Taoiseach and Mr Biden, as well as the traditional Shamrock Ceremony and Ambassador’s St Patrick’s Day Reception.

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