Sinn Féin MP: It’s time to start preparations for a referendum on Irish unity

"The conversation on Irish unity is already underway. We now need to see formal preparations for a unity referendum begin in earnest."

The new decade will bring huge challenges and opportunities for the people of Ireland. 

The disastrous Tory Brexit agenda and its ongoing fallout paralysed politics towards the end of the last decade – and the impact of crippling austerity policies presided over by successive Tory prime minsters is still being felt. 

But the crisis and calamity of the last ten years does not have to define the decade ahead. 
The new decade can be a decade of opportunity for the island of Ireland. 

Across the north, across the island and throughout the Irish diaspora, there is now an unprecedented interest in Irish unity. 

For the first time since the partition of Ireland, growing numbers of people are now seeing their future on the island of Ireland. 

Now more and more people are looking to Irish unity as an answer to the problems created by Brexit and Tory austerity. 

At the recent Westminster election, for the first time since partition, the north is now represented by more nationalist MPs than unionist MPs. 

That is the continuation of a trend in recent elections which saw an end to the unionist majority in the Assembly and two remain-supporting MEPs elected. 

That is clear evidence of a growing demand for Irish unity. Successive opinion polls have also shown increasing support for Irish unity north and south. 

All of this highlights the need for a referendum on Irish unity, as provided for in the Good Friday Agreement. 

The conversation on Irish unity is already underway. We now need to see formal preparations for a unity referendum begin in earnest. 

The British government has a responsibility under the Good Friday Agreement to announce plans for a unity referendum. The Irish government, as a coguarantor of that agreement also has a responsibility to ensure that key elements of the agreement, which provides a democratic pathway to constitutional change, is implemented. 

Ahead of any referendum, there needs to be a proper lead-in period for informed debate and discussion. 

The disaster of the Brexit referendum has shown what happens when people go into a referendum process unprepared. 

We can learn from that debacle and instead have a referendum in the next five years after a period of reasoned, informed and mature debate. 

We now have an opportunity to prepare to shape the debate and discussion ahead of a unity referendum. There is a role for everyone in that debate; nationalists, unionists, republicans and everyone else. 

Across Ireland, civic society has organised to take part in that debate on a new constitutional future. There is a role, too, for progressive voices in Britain to get involved in the discussion, urging the British government to fulfil its responsibility to hold a referendum. 

Already, progressive voices across Europe understand the Good Friday Agreement and its provision for a referendum on Irish unity and recognise the opportunity it presents to create a new, modern democratic state based on the principle of equality. 

So the decade ahead can be one of opportunity where we can build a new Ireland, within the EU, reconciled with itself and with a new relationship with Britain. 

Chris Hazzard is an Irish Sinn Féin politician who has been the Member of Parliament for South Down since the 2017 general election.

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9 Responses to “Sinn Féin MP: It’s time to start preparations for a referendum on Irish unity”

  1. Julia Gibb

    Long overdue and very welcome.

    I wish them every success in their journey. Hopefully ascottish Independence will also be achieved shortly.

    Only yesterday we had people posting on this site that neither would happen.

  2. Julia Gibb

    Although I must add that without English money we’d be bankrupt.

    Scotland is such a horrible shithole that the 750,000 smartest Scots have left Scotland and live instead in England, Wales and Ireland. That’s one in eight and doesn’t even include Scots who’ve left the UK. The only ones left are the schemies and dole suckers.

    There’s something badly wrong with our crappy country when literally everyone who can afford to leave has done so.

  3. nick w

    I think he should be aiming for something a little more immediate, like restoring power sharing, the current serious crisis in the Northern Ireland NHS is ion no small part down to the breakdown of the power sharing agreement, so perhaps a little more attention on immediate issues would actually benefit the population rather than aiming for what is at least something in the future

  4. Joe

    Will the Labour Party be supporting their terrorist friends?

  5. Patrick Newman

    Joe, if you are a real person and not an algorithm, what on Earth are you talking about. Tory and Labour governments have been dealing with Sinn Fein for decades!
    The GFA is dying and time for NI to adopt normal politics with proportional representation and no power ‘sharing’ The Unionists would not have power and not be able to frustrate the true historical inheritance of the six counties uniting with the Irish Republic and retaining their membership of the EU!

  6. David T

    Julia Gibb: what utter vitriolic nonsense in your second comment. The reality is that England would be far worse off by far without Scottish money and Scotland would be richer if it were able to retain 100% of its revenues rather than the small rebate it receives now.

    I don’t know where you live in Scotland, if indeed you do. But my experience as an Englishman living in Scotland is that it is a much kinder and more welcoming place to live than England.

  7. Niall

    “The conversation on Irish unity is already underway.” This conversation Chris, how many Unionists are involved in it? How many have you reached out to to better understand their views and fears?

    You seem to have decided the outcome already – a referendum on a pre-determined choice – without any input from Unionists or others in Northern Ireland and that seems incredibly one-eyed, and not a solution at all.

    Any ‘conversation’ should be an entirely open-ended one, not led by political parties with a single objective, and with no pre-determined outcome, not least because that will be the only way any significant element of unionism can be persuaded to take part.

    Why does the outcome have to be solely based on an all-Ireland single state framework? Why couldn’t it be the continuation of Northern Ireland remaining part of the UK with a power-sharing government in Belfast and a significant Irish dimension, as at present?

    You need a more genuinely open approach than outlined above otherwise this will never happen.

  8. john zims

    To be successful someone needs to find £11 billion to replace the annual Westminster handout & secondly explain to voters what will replace the NHS in NI as the health care system in the south is not only expensive (e.g €100 for A&E),but one of the worst in Europe.

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