The leader of Sinn Féin has sought “partnership” with unionists to help bring about the party’s objective of a united Ireland.
Mary Lou McDonald said unionists must have an “equal part” in building what she described as a new Ireland. Ms McDonald made the comments during an Easter commemoration to mark 106 years since the 1916 Rising.
Addressing a large crowd that assembled in Milltown Cemetery in Belfast on Sunday, Ms McDonald urged unionists to “walk this journey with us”.
“To those of a unionist tradition I say sincerely, we seek partnership with you,” she said.
“A future of equality and freedom belongs to you. A future of progress and change belongs to you. A future of prosperity and opportunity belongs to you.
“It is not for anybody to invite you in; that future is already yours. It is about you, it is of you, it is for you.
“British government after British government has disrespected and failed you, time and again.
“Imagine instead the liberating possibility of full freedom to make all decisions here, in a parliament here, for the people who live here.
“Instead of a government in London turning its back on you, imagine an Ireland where your place is assured and your rights are enshrined in law.
“Where who you are is woven into the very fabric of who we all are, a people as one in all our diversity.
“An Ireland finally taking its place again as part of the European family and amongst the nations of the world, ready to realise all of our potential.
“In that spirit, in that belief, there is no limit to what we can achieve together.
“Walk this journey with us. This is the decade of opportunity where we have the freedom to determine our future. There is so much to gain.”
During the commemoration wreaths were laid for various groups, followed by the laying of single lilies by young people. A minute’s silence was held for those who died during the 1916 Rising, followed by a musician playing a lament, and the reading of the Proclamation of the Republic.
Addressing the forthcoming Stormont Assembly election, Ms McDonald said that if Sinn Féin emerges as the largest party, it will nominate Michelle O’Neill as First Minister.
She told the crowd that there is “not an office” off-limits or the “sole preserve of one group”.
“Those days are gone and good riddance,” Ms McDonald added.
“After the votes are counted, the Sinn Féin team will go back to the Assembly ready to do business, ready to roll up our sleeves and get to work for the people.
“We want to do this in partnership with others. We will work with everyone to make politics a success. Democracy must prevail on terms set by the people, not by the DUP or by anyone else.
“The democratic test for the leaders of political unionism will be if they accept the will of the people. I hope they do. I hope they do not repeat the mistakes of the past.
“Now is the time for an Executive that is focused on delivery and the future, and which embraces the values of partnership over division.”
Successive opinion polls have put Sinn Féin on course to be the largest party following the May 5th election, with Michelle O’Neill forecast to become the first nationalist to head up the Stormont administration. The DUP has indicated that it will continue to block a return of power-sharing after the election.
Ms McDonald again called on the Dublin government to set up a Citizens’ Assembly to discuss constitutional change in an “orderly, peaceful and democratic way”.
“There is an onus on the Irish government to urgently establish a Citizens’ Assembly to discuss, debate and plan for the immense possibilities the future holds,” she said.
“However, in the event that [Taoiseach] Micheál Martin or [Tánaiste] Leo Varadkar continue to bury their heads in the sand let me give a clear, unequivocal commitment that a Sinn Féin-led government in Dublin will establish that Citizens’ Assembly.”
Meanwhile, Ms O’Neill’s address to an Easter Rising event in Carrickmore was dominated by the forthcoming election.
“This (Assembly) election is about the future, the next generation and what people, from whatever background or tradition, can achieve if we work together,” she said.
“When the DUP walked away from the Executive I convened a meeting of party leaders to get work done. The Assembly passed legislation on climate, housing, women’s rights and the cost-of-living crisis.
“This was matched by initiatives by Executive ministers, despite resistance from a Tory government. A full term of similar leadership could do much more.
“After May 5 Sinn Féin is committed to getting the Assembly and Executive up and running without delay. We want to lead, not just in the Executive but across Ireland.
“We are determined in the time ahead to lead a government in Dublin. We wish to unite our people and our country and with the support of citizens, that is what we will do.”