Northern Ireland news


Michelle O'Neill calls for clarity on border poll criteria

Sinn Féin vice president Michelle O'Neill. Picture by Brian Lawless/PA Wire

PRESSURE is mounting on the secretary of state to spell out the criteria for a border poll.

Sinn Féin deputy leader Michelle O'Neill yesterday said there was a need to clarify the "grey" area in the Good Friday Agreement for the basis of holding a referendum on constitutional change.

Her comments came after Tánaiste Leo Varadkar also called for clarity on the mechanism for calling a poll.

Speaking at a Co-Operation Ireland event on Tuesday night, the Fine Gael leader said he did not believe the test for calling a referendum had been met but argued for the "need to clarify the mechanism for calling a border poll".

Mr Varadkar also suggested a potential role for the Stormont assembly in triggering a future poll, rather than it being solely at the behest of the secretary of state.

Under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement, a vote should be triggered if the secretary of state believes it appears likely that a majority would support Irish unity.

Asked about the tánaiste's remarks yesterday, Ms O'Neill said there was a "need for clarity".

"We should know what are circumstances in which a unity referendum will be called," she said.

"I think that would be really important for the public to understand what we're working towards – so I think there's no doubt that the Good Friday Agreement is a bit grey in terms of the criteria, but yes that should be clarified."

On a potential role for the assembly, the Sinn Féin vice president urged Mr Varadkar and Taoiseach Micheál Martin to concentrate their efforts on establishing an all-island citizens' assembly examining constitutional change.

"There's no doubt the conversation around the unification of the country constitutional change is under way – that was the case before the election, it's the case after the election," she said.

The call to plan for potential constitutional change was echoed last night by Fine Gael's Neale Richmond, who argued for his own government to establish an Oireachtas committee on Irish unity.

Speaking last night during an Ireland's Future event at Westminster, the Dublin Rathdown representative said the Dublin government had a "duty to be as best prepared as possible for a border poll", suggesting it could happen over the next decade.

But the DUP has accused Sinn Féin of "creating more division with a border poll".

"We warned about this before the election and our warnings were dismissed as scaremongering – our warnings have been proven correct," said Foyle MLA Gary Middleton.

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