Brexit 'could lead to united Ireland poll within five years'

Michelle O'Neill said Brexit could lead to a united Ireland poll being held relatively quickly. Picture by Hugh Russell
Aine McMahon, Press Association

A border poll on Irish unity is likely to happen within five years, due to Brexit upheaval, Sinn Féin vice president Michelle O'Neill has suggested.

Ms O'Neill said polls show the necessity for debate and planning to begin on preparations for a border poll, and then beyond that to a united Ireland.

Sinn Féin have said they want a border poll on a united Ireland within five years, but Ms O'Neill said Brexit could see it happening sooner.

Speaking in Dublin, she said the collapse of the Berlin wall and subsequent reunification of east and west Germany shows that major political events such as Brexit can speed events up.

"Everything is moving in that direction. I believe it was moving there even before Brexit, but clearly Brexit has become a catalyst for it.

"What is important to note is the German example. I think with the Berlin wall, Germany was reunited within a year...the fact that events overtook and the country was unified within a year."

Ms O'Neill said the "genie is out of the bottle" when it comes to the issue of a united Ireland.

"The prudent thing now is to start planning for it. If the Irish government does not want to fall into the same trap as the British government has in terms of Brexit, then now is the time to plan and have that conversation."

She said negotiations between the UK, EU and Ireland must take place before any border poll, so the "disorder" caused by Brexit will not happen again.

"The conversation does not have to be rancorous, it can be done in a very inclusive way," she said.

"Regarding the current political situation, where nationalists are being treated as second class citizens, and to point to the Emma De Souza case, where her Irish citizenship is being brought into question because the British Government never gave legislative effect to the Good Friday Agreement, so I think things are moving in that direction anyway."

Loyalists in Belfast held a meeting on Monday night to warn British prime minister Boris Johnson that they "will not tolerate an economic united Ireland".

Loyalist spokesman Jamie Bryson said there is "immense anger" within loyalism around the current proposed Brexit deal.

Asked whether preparations between the Irish and UK governments about a border poll on Irish unity could inflame loyalist tensions, Ms O'Neill described the Belfast meeting as a "worrying development".

"I believe that (meeting) needs to be condemned by political unionism," she said.

"I don't think it is a tolerable situation to say that the UDA and UVF were in a meeting in Belfast last night discussing how they are going to respond to Brexit - I think the most mature thing to do is for political leaders to be political leaders, for people to plan for the future.

"The Irish government must convene that conversation because I believe people who have a British identity will engage in that conversation," she said.

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