LONDONDERRY: The upheaval of Brexit means a referendum on Irish unity must be held within the next five years, the leader of republican party Sinn Fein said Saturday.
The province of Northern Ireland, and its border with the Republic of Ireland, has been a major complication in Britain’s attempt to leave the EU.
“The days of partition are numbered, change is in the air, Brexit has changed everything,” president Mary Lou McDonald told the party’s conference in Londonderry.
“Many people, for the first time, are now considering their future in a United Ireland.”
“In the next five years, let the people have their say,” she added – calling on the Irish government to set a path to the poll with an all-Ireland forum.
A 1998 peace accord ended 30 years of sectarian bloodshed across the island, dictating the border between the British territory and the sovereign nation to the south be rendered invisible.
Brussels, Dublin and London have all agreed to preserve the peace-building status quo post-Brexit.
But Westminster has been unable to pass a divorce deal with the bloc to keep the boundary invisible, whilst also keeping Northern Ireland aligned with mainland Britain.
For Sinn Fein, it is a sign that the 500-kilometre border which snakes across Ireland is illegitimate.
The border was drawn up in 1921 after the Republic gained its independence.
The province of Northern Ireland remained with Britain, but riven with division between warring republicans and unionists who vied for control in a conflict known as “The Troubles”.
Whilst Sinn Fein have consistently campaigned for a so-called “border poll”, the power to trigger it does not lie with them.
Under the terms of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, the British secretary of state for Northern Ireland should organise the vote “if at any time it appears likely to him that a majority of those voting would express a wish that Northern Ireland should cease to be part of the United Kingdom.”
Sinn Fein is campaigning in the run-up to the December 12 general elections in Britain, however, their elected representatives have a policy of abstention.
The party, which favours remaining in the European Union, hopes to capitalise in Northern Irish constituencies where 56% voted to remain in the EU in the 2016 Brexit vote.