Northern Ireland news

Calls intensify for border poll in wake of unionist defeat

Sinn Féin president Mary Lou McDonald had said demands are growing for a border poll in the wake of the Westminster elections. Picture Margaret McLaughlin

PRESSURE is mounting for a border poll after a unionist minority of MPs was returned to Westminster for the first time since partition.

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald described the election results - which saw eight DUP MPs elected to parliament - as a "defining moment in our politics" and that it was "impossible" to ignore demands for a poll.

"Brexit has changed the political landscape in Ireland, in Britain and in Europe. All the old certainties are gone," she said.

"In this election, voters clearly responded to co-operation between pro-remain, progressive parties and that has demonstrated once again that the majority of people in the north are opposed to being dragged out of the EU, opposed to any hardening of the border in Ireland and want to protect the Good Friday Agreement and the all-Ireland economy."

Sinn Féin's negotiating team are "standing ready" to re-enter talks with the two governments and the other parties on Monday, according to its leader.

"We need a new kind of politics, a new Assembly and a new Executive, which is underpinned by the resources to deliver quality public services.

"Alongside this, it is now impossible to ignore the growing demand for a referendum on Irish Unity and I want to reiterate Sinn Féin's call for the Irish government to establish an All-Ireland Forum on Irish Unity without delay."

Alliance leader Naomi Long also said Brexit could reignite calls for Irish unity.

"If Boris Johnson chooses to use his mandate to pursue a no-deal or a hard Brexit, then it is inevitable that Scotland will push for a second referendum on independence and it is almost inevitable that there will be a push for an Irish unity referendum," she said.

"I think that Boris Johnson, despite everything that is said about him, ultimately is a pragmatist."

Ms Long told BBC Radio Ulster's the Nolan Show that the Prime Minister wanted to deliver more than Brexit.

"The people of North Down do want to Remain, the people of Northern Ireland do want to Remain, that is the resounding message of the election, but what we need to do now is have the reality check.

"We are now in the situation where, having had the opportunity to influence two successive UK governments, the DUP failed to do that in the best interests of Northern Ireland because they rejected the softer Brexit that was available and went for a hard Brexit.

"Now we have a Prime Minister who no longer cares or needs the DUP to be able to deliver the hardest Brexit that he wants to deliver and so our options are limited."

Earlier this year, former Ulster Unionist party leader Mike Nesbitt said that a united Ireland is not inevitable.

"I'm also realistic and I do wonder whether Brexit will prove to be the biggest own goal in 100 years from unionists," he said.

"I know a lot of the emphasis is on the border and on tariff and on trade, and these things are extremely important and need to be resolved, but the other issue is identity."

In February, SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said there would be a "special place in hell" for those who call for a referendum on Irish unity without a plan.

Mr Eastwood said a border poll should not be held until work to build a new and reconciled Ireland was completed.

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