Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald has predicted a referendum on the reunification of Ireland would take place “in this decade” and that Ireland is “in the end days of partition”.
“We’ve built the peace, and we now we look to the next phase: the reunification of Ireland,” she told the National Press Club of Australia in Canberra.
She also said she could not accept a situation whereby the threat of violence derails “our democratic course” and said acts of disorder are “a very limited phenomena”.
“We are living now in the end days of partition. The momentum behind Irish unity is unprecedented. We are energised with the opportunity to build a new united Ireland.
“We have the generation that can – that will – redefine our nation. The Good Friday [Belfast] Agreement provides for referendums on Irish unity, and I believe that these will happen in this decade, so we must prepare. Both governments have a responsibility to prepare.”
Ms McDonald appealed to new Australian prime minister Anthony Albanese to lobby for the cause of Irish reunification on the international stage.
“Ireland needs our international friends,” she said. “We need Australia to join us on our journey. We ask our friends to be energetic and proactive in advocating for Irish unity at every opportunity.
“So, yes, we will certainly be talking to everybody. I believe European leaders, just as Australian leaders, should advocate for the final leg – the final logical leg – of the peace journey in Ireland, and that is reunification.”
The Sinn Féin leader said the reunification agenda was not about “reclaiming territory” but about uniting our people, and that all communities in the new Ireland would have “a say and a stake” in it.
“The winning margin is 50 per cent plus one – the standard democratic norm – but of course we would have an ambition to win the referendum by a much more substantial margin than that,” she said. “It’s our ambition to win it, and to win it well.
“It is very, very important that everybody, including unionism, understands they have a voice, stake and a say in the journey to a united Ireland and in shaping the final destination.
“I can’t give you a date, but I can certainly say that all of the signs – even for those who had their heads buried deepest in the sand – all of the evidence of political change is now manifest right across Ireland.”
The issue of reunification is looming larger in Irish politics following the recent election in the Six Counties which showed nationalist parties in the North narrowly outpolling unionist ones.
Sinn Fein has also built a substantial lead in opinion polls in the 26 Counties, partly as a result of its identification with the nationalist and republican cause.
While the existing coalition government failing to take action on the issue of preparations for unity, Sinn Fein has seized the initiative this week by launching its own ‘Commission on the Future of Ireland’.
The panel, to be chaired by SF chairperson Declan Kearney with Senator Lynn Boylan acting as deputy, will seek submissions and contributions “from all sections of society on this island and beyond”. A related “people’s assembly” will take place at Belfast’s Waterfront Hall on October 12.
The move will challenge the failure of the so-called ‘Shared Island Unit’, set up by Taoiseach Micheal Martin, to add to the debate.
Martin’s disinclination to follow through on his own plans for an island-wide political dimension has been increasingly criticised within his own party.
Irish nationalists have been frustrated in particular that the relatively easy task of encouraging northerners into the Senate, the upper chamber of the Dublin parliament, has not yet taken place.
Another plans shelved by Martin included a promise for his party to contest northern elections. His response to criticism has been to repeatedly blame Sinn Fein and others for not doing enough to build ‘understanding’ on the island of Ireland.
Martin said this week that the only route to Irish unity is “through everyone taking personal responsibility for challenging themselves and being open to change”.
Speak at a commemoration event for former Fianna Fail leader and Taoiseach Seán Lemass, he also lashed out at preparations for a border poll on reunification.
“The harsh reality is that in the past two decades we have done too little to take up the historic opportunity of the [Good Friday] Agreement to build understanding and cooperation on this island,” he said.
“We have too often allowed the rhetoric of the headcount to replace the true republican spirit of engagement”.
Ms Lou McDonald said she was “inviting everyone to be part of planning the future” and that the initiative was an “opportunity for alternative proposals to be presented by those with different visions of Ireland”.
“This is an opportunity for citizens to have their say on the future of Ireland; our economy, our constitutional arrangements; political and democratic structures and governance; the role of the Irish government; the rights and equality agenda; the protection of minorities; future economic and public policy models and a future all-island public health service,” she said.
“The commission will seek to engage with the protestant, loyalist, and unionist section of our people.”