Sinn Féin President Mary Lou McDonald has said that a referendum on Irish unity can be expected “in this decade."
Ms. McDonald was speaking on RTÉ’s This Week programme the day after Michelle O’Neill became the First Minister of Northern Ireland and the first nationalist to hold the position.
McDonald said the appointment was “hugely, historically significant."
And she continued: “For me, it is a matter of great joy for nationalists and republicans, for people who grew up in a very, very discriminatory environment. For society more generally it’s a statement of equality that no office, including the highest office in the land, is beyond the reach of anyone. I think that’s wonderful.
“As to the Irish unity question, the conversation is now under way… This question is live… preparation for constitutional transition and change needs to be under way and it needs to be led by the government in Dublin.”
McDonald added: “This is the decade of opportunity. I think the opportunities afforded to this island in reunification are immense. They could not be overstated.
“But we are going to have to manage the process. I think responsible political leadership would be at that now. I think the (Irish) government’s Shared Island unit is a useful device, but it’s not enough. We now need active planning and the government in Dublin needs to clear the democratic space for this inclusive conversation to happen. I think people will be amazed and surprised by the level of common cause and common ground that exists.”
McDonald said it was not the tricolor or the national anthem that unionists raise with her when talking about Irish unity, but issues around the health service.
“That’s the single, consistently big issue. And increasingly around pensions and where that might sit.”
Speaking on Sky News on Sunday, First Minister Michelle O’Neill was asked if she thought there would be a referendum on Irish unity in the next decade.
“Yes,” she answered. “I believe we are in a decade of opportunity, and there are so many things that are changing.”