Fri, Jan 10, 2020 - Page 6 News List

Brexit changes the conversation over Ireland: Sinn Fein

AFP, LONDON

Brexit has changed the conversation around a united Ireland, Sinn Fein members of the UK parliament said on Wednesday as the party urged Dublin to prepare for a referendum.

The debate over how the currently invisible border between Northern Ireland — which is part of the UK — and the Republic of Ireland would operate after Brexit has proved the stickiest part of negotiations for Britain to leave the EU.

Sinn Fein’s newly elected Belfast North member of parliament, John Finucane, said that discussion around a border poll was now “mainstream.”

Speaking in London as Sinn Fein’s seven members of parliament met outside the Houses of Parliament in London while lawmakers returned to the legislature, Finucane said that the Brexit vote in 2016 “changed forever the conversation around a new Ireland.”

“It needs to be a very well-informed and reasoned debate, and for that we need the Irish government to step up,” Finucane said.

The UK is due to leave the EU on Jan. 31.

While 52 percent across the UK as a whole voted for the kingdom to leave the EU, within Northern Ireland, 56 percent wanted the UK to stay in the bloc.

Sinn Fein is the biggest party representing the Catholic community in Northern Ireland.

Its members of parliament do not take their seats in the British parliament, as they refuse to recognize its jurisdiction over Northern Ireland or swear allegiance to Britain’s head of state, Queen Elizabeth II.

“We are here to raise the issue of Irish unity,” said West Belfast Member of Parliament Paul Maskey.

The island of Ireland was partitioned in the early 1920s, with six northern counties — then heavily populated by pro-British Protestant unionists — opting to stay within the UK while the rest of Ireland left.

The Irish constitution says a united Ireland can only be brought about with democratically expressed majority consent in both jurisdictions.

British laws say a poll can be called in the province if the government’s Northern Ireland secretary feels it likely that a majority would vote to leave.

Meanwhile, talks are ongoing in Belfast on restoring the devolved Northern Ireland Assembly, which collapsed in January 2017 due to a breakdown in trust.

Northern Ireland has been administered by civil servants since then.

If a deal is not reached by the deadline on Monday, legislation to give civil servants additional powers to run the province’s struggling public services expires and fresh elections are due to be called.

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