The British government could face court action if it “stalls and delays” in calling a vote on Irish reunification, according to Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald.
“The right to a referendum has been conceded. We are not asking Oliver Twist-style ‘please can we have our referendum,’” she told a media briefing in central London last week.
Under the terms of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, a Six County ‘Border Poll’ on Irish reunification should be called by the British Direct Ruler if it appears likely to pass.
When Ms McDonald was asked how she would be able to convince a British government to actually hold a referendum on Irish unity, she said there was no “carte blanche” for the British government to decide whether or not there would even be a referendum.
“If the British government were to stall and delay, they could face the prospect of somebody with standing challenging them in the courts,” she said. “It would be a foolish government that wouldn’t have that in their line of sight.”
Ms McDonald said she is not proposing that Sinn Féin will take legal action but “on previous occasions, people have gone to the courts to challenge” aspects of the Good Friday Agreement.
Ms McDonald said she wants to “foster a positive relationship” with the British government and has asked to meet British PM Rishi Sunak.
“I think a meeting between [Mr Sunak] and the Sinn Féin leadership, led by someone who happens to be a Dubliner, would be very very welcome. We are working to try to secure that meeting. We want a grown-up, open line of communication with the British government. We are on for that and we hope that they are too. We want friendly relations,” she said.
However, Ms McDonald criticised the British government for providing “hokey” explanations of why she was excluded by the British government from round-table talks with all parties in Belfast last week. “It should not have happened,” she said.
The Sinn Féin delegation, which also included party MP John Finucane and Stormont Assembly member Conor Murphy, was in London to put public pressure on the British government and the Democratic Unionist Party to end outstanding Brexit disputes and resume a devolved government in the North which has been shuttered by a DUP boycott for eight months.
She said the current situation is “unfair on the people” of the north of Ireland, who are “caught between a Tory rock and a hard place”.
Another deadline for forming a devolved executive was ignored by the British government last week with little sign that they have the political will to end the deadlock. A legal duty to call a snap Assembly election in the North was also again ignored.
Conor Murphy has said the British government should listen to the voices of leading US figures on the issue.
Speaking ahead of a visit to the US by the North’s Direct Ruler, Chris Heaton-Harris, Conor Murphy asked him to spell out what “if anything” he has done to restore the Stormont Executive.
“The US administration has been steadfast in its support for the Protocol and the Good Friday Agreement and ensuring people in the north and our economy is fully protected,” he said.
“It has affirmed its support with the appointment of Special Envoy Joe Kennedy and it’s critical that Chris Heaton Harris works with him and the parties to restore power-sharing and use the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement as a platform to our economic benefit.”
He concluded: “There is no time to waste. People need an Executive formed now to deliver for them. They need clarity from Chris Heaton-Harris on what, if anything, he has done to restore the Assembly and Executive. He should spell that out to US leaders during his visit.”