Northern Ireland news

'No majority for the union any more', civic nationalist group says

Gerry Carlile from Ireland's Future

A REFERENDUM on Irish unity must be held after the assembly election result showed there is "no majority for the union any more", a civic nationalist group has said.

Ireland's Future chief executive Gerry Carlile said although the "major responsibility and onus" on preparing for a united Ireland is with the Irish government, there is an "onus on the government in London to acknowledge that change is afoot and you cannot deny people a referendum indefinitely".

"Democracy must be upheld," he said. "There is no majority for the union any more."

Ireland's Future is holding a public meeting at Westminster on Wednesday May 18.

Chaired by Belfast-born journalist Andrea Catherwood, the meeting will include SDLP MP Claire Hanna; Sinn Féin MP John Finucane; Alliance MP Stephen Farry; SNP MP Ian Blackford and Fine Gael TD Neale Richmond.

Under the Good Friday Agreement, the British government decides when a border poll should be held.

Mr Carlile said the group wanted to let people in Britain know that the political situation in the north had changed.

"It will be the British government who decide on the timing of the referendum so it's important that the government and broader British society know that things have changed here significantly," he said.

He said the north is "on a one-way trajectory to a referendum" after Sinn Féin became the largest party in the assembly.

"We're bringing our message to London," he said.

"It's our intention to let people know that those who are involved in the conversation come from a wide range of backgrounds."

He added: "People like Stephen Farry, even though he and the Alliance party haven't taken a view on Irish unity they are prepared to have to these conversations."

Mr Carlile said "let's plan, let's prepare" has been the group's mantra.

"If you know something is coming, prepare for it," he said.

"Bringing this to Westminster is another important step for us, as was bringing it to the (Irish) diaspora in America and all around the island."

Mr Carlile said the group has not set a time-frame on when a referendum should be held.

"While a date would focus minds our view is that it's more important to have conversations, answer questions, have a citizens' assembly and have the government in Dublin produce a white paper," he said.

"We need to have conversations with people the length and breadth of Ireland, particularly our unionist friends and neighbours and work colleagues."

Responding to Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald's suggestion that a referendum could be held within the next five years, Mr Carlile said: "Our view is that a referendum is happening, whether it happens in five years or seven years."

"It's not the most important thing at the moment," he said.

"The most important thing is that we plan and prepare and we approach the conversation in a mature fashion."

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