Mitchel McLaughlin says Ireland 'on the verge' of unity
SINN Féin's Mitchel McLaughlin has told a civil rights anniversary march in Co Tyrone that "Ireland is on the verge of another seismic shift towards a new, agreed and united Ireland".
The former Sinn Féin chairperson made the comments during a commemoration event to mark 50 years since the first organised civil rights march was held in the north.
The march on Saturday, organised by Sinn Féin, saw hundreds of people retrace the route of the original civil rights' march from Coalisland to Dungannon on August 24 1968.
Sinn Féin MPs Francie Molloy and Michelle Gildernew as well as the party's MEP Martina Anderson were among those who attended the event.
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During his keynote address, Mr McLaughlin said the civil rights movement was "never a republican conspiracy" but was an "an instinctive and largely spontaneous response to decades of unionist misrule, abuse and sectarianism".
He also described how the north is a "very different place than it was in 1968".
"Fifty years ago, like-minded people from all communities - outraged by the routine injustice and sectarianism of the six county state - came together to form the civil rights movement," he said.
"Inspired by the bravery and determination of the black civil rights movement in the USA, they took to the streets and marched for rights and against inequality.
"The orange state is now gone and we now have a peaceful and democratic way forward.
"This is a very different place than it was in 1968 and I am convinced that we are now on the verge of another seismic shift towards a new, agreed and united Ireland that will provide a prosperous and shared future for all our citizens."
Mr McLaughlin added that there were ongoing rights issues still being contested in Northern Ireland, many of which are tied to the ongoing Brexit process.
He said he believed that "there are still people who want to deny rights and equality to their fellow citizens today".
"People in the north still face attacks on their electoral and civil rights, alongside the continued denial of rights to LGBTQ couples, women, Irish language speakers, and bereaved families seeking a coroner's inquest," he said.
"Today, we are experiencing an unacceptable blockade on rights, imposed by the DUP and facilitated by the British government.
"Rights are also under threat by a right-wing Tory Brexit and there are unwelcome echoes of gerry-mandering and the hollowing out of democracy by the recent Boundary Commission proposals.
"The denial of rights, equality and respect is as wrong today as it was 50 years ago."