Northern Ireland should hold a referendum on leaving the United Kingdom and joining the Republic of Ireland as “as soon as possible”, Sinn Fein’s new leader has said.
Michelle O’Neill said Brexit would be a “disaster” for the province and that a referendum on Irish unity could be one way of bypassing its effects.
The intervention comes hours after Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon called for a referendum on Scottish independence – arguing that the Scottish people should be given a choice on Theresa May’s final Brexit deal.
Like Scotland, Northern Ireland voted to remain in the European Union in the referendum last year. The result in Northern Ireland was 56 per cent for Remain compared to 44 per cent for Leave.
The province however faces being dragged out of the EU with the rest of the UK. The effects of Brexit could also be more dramatic on Northern Ireland: Theresa May has not explicitly ruled out a hard border with the Republic under the coming new arrangements, though she has said she does not want one.
“Brexit will be a disaster for the economy, and a disaster for the people of Ireland,” Ms O’Neill told journalists in Belfast on Monday.
“A referendum on Irish unity has to happen as soon a possible.”
Ms O'Neill replaced Martin McGuinness as Sinn Fein's leader in the Northern Ireland Assembly in January of this year.
Opinion polls have consistently shown that the majority of people in Northern Ireland want to remain a part of the UK, though none has been conducted this year.
An Ipsos MORI poll from September showed that just 22 per cent of voters supported a united Ireland while 63 per cent wanted to stay in the UK.
Sinn Fein, the largest Irish republican party, made major gains in last week’s Northern Ireland Assembly elections.
It now has 27 seats in the Assembly, just one behind the largest party, the unionist DUP.
The possibility of a referendum on a united Ireland was included in the Good Friday agreement and the British government is committed to accepting the result of such a referendum.
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