Northern Ireland will conduct a referendum on uniting with the Republic of Ireland in this decade, the leadership of Sinn Fein, the party that heads the government of Northern Ireland, said on Thursday.
“We believe that we will have polls, referendums on the question of unity in this decade,” Sinn Fein President Mary Lou McDonald told journalists at a Foreign Press Association briefing in London. Earlier in the day, Ms. McDonald had clarified to Sky News that by “this decade” she had meant before 2030.
The conversation around the referendum would need to be “inclusive” and “planned, orderly, peaceful, democratic constitutional”, she said, adding that multiple identities could be accommodated within the national framework and this would involve working with the U.K., on the rights of British citizens living in Ireland.
However, Northern Ireland faces other pressing challenges. Its First Minister Michelle O’Neill, who also addressed journalists at the briefing, said “a huge amount of work” needed to be done, identifying areas such as public services, child care and education. A functioning government based on a power-sharing agreement between the Republican (i.e., pro Irish) Sinn Fein and Unionist DUP returned to Belfast earlier this week after a gap of two years following a DUP walkout. Belfast was being “starved” by the British government, Ms O’Neill had said earlier this week.
Ireland’s Taoiseach (Prime Minister), Leo Varadkar had indicated last year that while Ireland was on the way to unification, it was not ready for a referendum because it would be divisive and likely defeated at this stage.