World, Europe

Sinn Fein say hard Brexit will trigger Irish unity vote

Deputy leader of nationalist party says 'there is no room for violence'

13.02.2019
Sinn Fein say hard Brexit will trigger Irish unity vote

By Ahmet Gurhan Kartal

LONDON

The fate of a referendum on Irish unity is not tied to Brexit, but in the event of a no-deal Brexit with Britain crashing out of the European Union, the timing is right for the question to be put to the people, said the deputy leader of Irish nationalist party Sinn Fein.

Speaking to Anadolu Agency, Michelle O’Neill said she would be “fearful for the small element in society that made an attempt to bring us back to the past, but we have to stand very strong against that”.

“There is no room for violence,” she added.

O’Neill said that is why they need to protect the Good Friday Agreement and the backstop clause in the EU withdrawal agreement.

Underlining that there can be no return to a hard border in the island of Ireland, O’Neill stressed that Sinn Fein’s reason for existence is Irish unity.

She said the peace process in Northern Ireland was “a hard one”.

“It was a long time in the making until we actually got to the Good Friday Agreement 21 years ago,” she said, referring to the 1998 Belfast Agreement.

“No one wants to go back to where we were before. We can’t allow anyone to drag us back to the past.

“This is the serious implication that when we talk about the Good Friday Agreement and the need to protect the Good Friday Agreement, people need to remember what it was about.

“It is the alternative to conflict. It is a democratic and legitimate way to achieve Irish unity,” she said, adding it is an accommodation between those with Irish identity and those with British identity.

Also speaking to Anadolu Agency, Michelle Gildernew, one of Sinn Fein’s seven absent MPs in Britain’s House of Commons, also said the people of Northern Ireland will hold a referendum to unite the region with the Republic of Ireland in case of a no-deal crash-out.

“The border poll is written into the Good Friday Agreement,” she said, adding it is an internationally binding document.

“We signed off on that in 1998, so the border poll has been around for decades, and it has been a valid desire that we have been able to work towards.

“However, in the event of a crash-out Brexit, the Sinn Fein believe that people need to be given their say on the constitution and on their constitutional possession,” she added.

Gildernew said she believed that Northern Irish people who want to remain in the EU would vote positively in a border poll.

Chris Hazzard, also one of the seven Sinn Fein MPs, who remain absent from parliament business and refuse to take their seats due to the party’s policy, said the British government and those arguing for Brexit, especially those who are making a case for a hard Brexit, need to be very careful about what could come as a consequence.

Hazzard told Anadolu Agency that the peace process and the Good Friday Agreement “have been undermined by this Brexit process, and people need to be careful”.

He said the violence in Northern Ireland has been avoided thanks to the Good Friday Agreement.

“You have eluded obviously the violence on the street, and I would like to think that the Irish people will stay very resilient to the peace process…and in the instance of a hard Brexit, we will immediately move to a unity referendum.”

Reminding that Northern Irish people voted to remain in the EU in the 2016 referendum, Hazzard underlined that there is no mandate in Ireland for Brexit.

“If the British government and the British public want to move forward with Brexit, best of luck for them.

“The people of Ireland did not want that, and our democratic mandate must be respected.”


1998 Belfast Agreement

The Troubles - an era of conflict between the British government and pro-British paramilitaries on one side and Irish republicans and nationalists on the other – ended in 1998 after the Belfast Agreement put an end to decades of armed struggle in the divided UK region of Northern Ireland.

The UK and the Republic of Ireland signed the deal, brokered by the U.S. and eight political parties in Northern Ireland, on April 10, 1998.

The deal -- dubbed the ‘Good Friday Agreement’ -- largely saw the end of the Troubles-era violence, in which more than 3,500 people lost their lives.

The agreement committed the UK and Irish governments to respect the “principle of consent”.

In case of a positive result in a vote on Irish unification, the agreement specifies that "it will be a binding obligation on both governments to introduce and support in their respective parliaments legislation to give effect to that wish".


Tensions

The border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic has been one of the thorniest issues in Brexit negotiations between the UK and the EU.

A deal reached by British Prime Minister Theresa May and EU officials was rejected by MPs mainly due to the backstop clause having to do with avoiding a hard Irish border.

Northern Ireland voted to remain in the EU in the 2016 referendum, and it is feared that the Brexit process could trigger enmity in the region.

A car bomb targeting a courthouse in Londonderry (Derry) in January was blamed by local police on a dissident republican group, the New IRA.

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