Brexit is causing people to consider NI’s place in the UK – O’Neill

Sinn Fein vice president Michelle O’Neill has accused the Conservative Party and the DUP of ‘causing chaos’ in Northern Ireland.

27 April 2022

The impact of Brexit has led a lot of people to consider the question of whether Northern Ireland should remain within the UK, Michelle O’Neill has said.

The Sinn Fein vice president accused the Conservative Party and the DUP of “causing chaos” in Northern Ireland, but stressed that any decision on Irish unity would be for the people.

In an interview with the PA news agency ahead of the Stormont Assembly elections, Ms O’Neill also insisted that a new Executive should be formed immediately after next week’s poll.

During the election campaign, the DUP has repeatedly claimed that Sinn Fein would be emboldened to push for an Irish unity referendum if the republican party emerges with the most MLAs.

While Sinn Fein has concentrated on the cost-of-living and health service crises during its election events, Ms O’Neill insisted that it was not hiding its desire for Irish unity.

She said: “We are an Irish republican party, so we do believe in Irish unity. It is what we voted for the Good Friday Agreement for, it is an integral part of the Good Friday Agreement.

“But it will only be the public that will ever change the constitutional question here. They will have their say in time on that question and I look forward to the day when we are having that conversation around constitutional change.

“But I am not one-dimensional, I can think of more than one thing at a time. So I think I can articulate the view of constitutional change, try to convince the public and also work in the Assembly and Executive with others.”

Michelle O’Neill said the Conservative Party and the DUP had to shoulder the responsibility for Brexit (Liam McBurney/PA)

Ms O’Neill added: “There has been seismic change in society, particularly in the aftermath of Brexit, something that we didn’t vote for, but which has been foisted upon us.

“So I think a lot of people are now considering the constitutional position because Brexit has pulled us out of the EU, stolen our EU citizenship from us.

“I think a lot of people are now thinking about where do they want to be in the future, where do they see themselves, do they value their European citizenship?

“And the EU have said that in the event of a successful unity referendum that the whole of the country would be back within the EU, so I think that is a big question for a lot of people to ponder on and I think they are actively pondering on it.

“I am certainly talking to people who are thinking about the future.”

2022 NI Assembly election
Conor Murphy, Sinn Fein President Mary Lou McDonald, Sinn Fein Vice-President Michelle O’Neill, and John Finucane MP with party colleagues and supporters during the Sinn Fein manifesto launch at the MAC, Belfast (Liam McBurney/PA)

Ms O’Neill insisted that the post-Brexit Northern Ireland Protocol, which is bitterly opposed by unionist parties, must be protected.

She said that the new trading arrangements were a result of Brexit, which her party had opposed.

She said: “We wouldn’t be in the position we are today if it wasn’t for the Tories and the DUP.

“They collectively delivered us the hardest possible Brexit; we sought to achieve some mitigation against that.

“That is the protocol which we wouldn’t have if we didn’t have Brexit.

“So the DUP and the Tories have to shoulder responsibility for where we are today.

“This was always about an English agenda, an English nationalist agenda, and it was never in our interests here.

“We have to fight very hard for the protocol because that does give us some protection.

“The British Government have created chaos along with the DUP, created chaos, instability, uncertainty.

“Our local businesses can’t plan for the future, they can’t avail of the opportunities that the protocol presents because of the approach of the DUP and the Tories.

“People have had enough of that.”

The DUP collapsed the Stormont powersharing Executive earlier this year in protest at the protocol and have stated that they will not re-enter government after next week’s elections unless Westminster removes the so-called Irish Sea border.

Ms O’Neill said the DUP tactics were “madness”.

She said: “The DUP are fighting the election with a five point plan.

“You can’t deliver that plan unless you are in an Executive.

“So it is madness to tell the public that you don’t know what you will do the other side of the election whenever you are out telling them you are going to fix the health service and you are going to invest in X, Y and Z.

“I don’t think that washes with the public and I think it is intolerable to even conceive that someone wouldn’t go into the Executive whenever the public are struggling with the cost-of-living rises and the public know their health service need major investment.

“The rest of us will turn up on day one, I encourage the DUP to do likewise.”

2022 NI Assembly election
Sinn Fein is running 34 candidates in the Assembly election (Liam McBurney/PA)

A series of opinion polls have predicted that Sinn Fein is on course to emerge from the election with the most seats, which would entitle the party to nominate for the first time for the position of first minister.

Sinn Fein is running 34 candidates in the election, more than any other party, but Ms O’Neill refused to be drawn on how many seats she believed the party could win.

She said: “We are seeking the largest possible mandate that we can.

“The more votes we have, the more departments we have. I am very proud of the track record of the Sinn Fein ministers in Government, we want to do more of that.

“The more departments we have, the more impact we can have.”

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