Sinn Féin’s vice president Michelle O’Neill has said that Brexit will have lead to a united Ireland within the next 10 years to ensure both countries are in the European Union.
Speaking to The Guardian’s Politics Weekly series with Jonathan Freedland, the Northern Ireland deputy first minister said that Brexit and coronavirus has pushed people from all sides of the political spectrum to have conversation about the future of the United Kingdom and the possibility of a united Ireland.
O’Neill said that the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union – against the wishes of Northern Ireland – was the ‘clearest demonstration of the blatant disregard that the British government have for the people here’.
She explained: ‘There isn’t anything good for us here in terms of Brexit. We voted to reject Brexit.
‘But it demonstrates for people, and not just those of a nationalist prospective or a republican prospective, it demonstrates to all people including those in the unionist community, that the British Government do not prioritise their needs and they’re not putting their interests first.
‘So what I want and what our intention is, is to continue the debate.
‘And I can tell you this: in my whole lifetime I have never witnessed the level of conversation that is now underway right across this island.
‘And it’s not just the national republicans talking about it.
‘Many, many others are entering into the conversation and that is a really healthy and good thing.’
The politician claimed that, much like in Scotland, the coronavirus pandemic had showed that devolved administrations have been able to take a different path to Westminster and do it successfully.
She said: ‘With Boris Johnson’s strategy in terms of COVID-19, we would have lost a lot more people we have if the executive did not have the ability to take its own path.’
O’Neill said in the next decade, as a result of Brexit, many would vote for a united Ireland to ensure both countries are in the EU.
‘Now is the time to plan for unity and to start to put the facts on the table. Let people understand what does an all-Ireland health service look like, what does an all-Ireland education system look like.
‘We now need to put that information out for all to see and let them make an informed choice, because I believe we are now in a decade of opportunity and I believe in the next number of years, certainly before the end of this decade, we will have voted for a united Ireland.’
She continued: ‘So for a lot of people in this decade we have in front of us, they’re going to be considering which union they wish to be part of and the EU have offered us a route back in. So for some people it may not be about Britishness versus Irishness, it may be about do they value their European citizenship. I think that’s going to be a very interesting debate.’