Sinn Fein has called on the EU to work for a united Ireland as an alternative to a “reckless” Brexit - but unionists have responded by calling for the restoration of devolution to tackle crumbling public services.
Speaking at the launch of ‘The EU and Irish Unity’ report in the European Parliament in Brussels this week, Sinn Fein Vice President Michelle O’Neill argued that EU backing for a united Ireland was a good alternative to Brexit.
“A growing number of people on the island of Ireland believe that Irish unity is the democratic alternative to the unwanted Brexit being foisted upon citizens here, and Irish unity is now at the forefront of Irish politics,” she said.
“The real prospect of a referendum on Irish unity in the near future must also feature strongly in the ongoing Brexit negotiations between the EU and British Government.”
The EU should also bring political and diplomatic pressure to bear on the British Government to “fulfil their obligations under the Good Friday Agreement” and consent to the holding of a referendum on Irish unity, she said.
But DUP MP Gregory Campbell responded that Michelle O’Neill would be “better spending her time setting up an Executive” instead of “chasing fantasies” of a united Ireland.
Instead, he said, Sinn Fein “prefers to boycott” since it withdrew from Stormont almost 1000 days ago, and is “intent on creating instability”.
“Michelle and Mary Lou need to waken up, Irish ‘unity’ is not at the forefront of politics,” he said. “Hospital waiting lists, tackling educational underachievement and fixing our roads is a priority for the people I come into connect with day and daily.”
Similarly, UUP leader Robin Swann MLA responded that Sinn Fein seems intent on deepening division.
“No matter what the question is, their answer is always to call for a united Ireland,” he said.
“If Michelle O`Neill and the rest of Sinn Fein spent more time concentrating on getting devolution restored rather than grandstanding in Dublin and Brussels, we might have less patients on waiting lists, and benefit claimants in their own constituencies wouldn`t be facing the prospect of welfare mitigations ending.
“Sinn Fein might thrive on political chaos, but our people won’t.”
TUV leader Jim Allister noted that Sinn Fein has historically been “hostile” to the EU, taking a ‘No’ position in every referendum held in the Republic on the issue.
“However, gradually they came to realise that the EU’s hostility to the nationstate and contempt for borders meant that they could piggyback on the European project, eroding the difference between Northern Ireland and the Republic.”
It has been clear from talks that the EU wants Northern Ireland to be the “price” the UK pays for Brexit, so it is “natural” that Sinn Fein sees it as an ally, he added.