Michelle O’Neill, in her first UK interview as Stormont First Minister, said she believes there will be a vote on uniting the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland in the next decade.
There will be a referendum on uniting Ireland within the next 10 years, the new First Minister of Stormont has said.
Michelle O’Neill, in her first UK interview as First Minister, said she believes there will be a vote on uniting the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland in the next decade. The appointment of the Sinn Fein vice president on Saturday provided a moment of history on the day the powersharing institutions returned after a two-year hiatus.
Asked whether she anticipated a referendum on Irish unity within 10 years, Stormont’s first nationalist First Minister Ms O’Neill told Sky News: “Yes. I believe we’re in a decade of opportunity. And there are so many things that are changing all the old norms, the nature of the state, the fact that a nationalist republican was never supposed to be First Minister.
“This all speaks to that change. And I think that’s that that’s in terms of, you know, what’s happening here on the side. And so the next decade, I think, is the decade of opportunity.” She added that she “would absolutely contest what the British government have said” about a border poll being decades away.
Asked whether she will be more conciliatory now that she is First Minister, Ms O’Neill said she will “consider every invitation that comes my way”. “I think that’s important. And again, that comes back to the demonstrating, in terms of your words and deeds, that you’re going to fulfil the commitment or the promise that I’ve made in terms of for all,” she said.
“But certainly, I’m hoping that I get invitations. I want to step into ground that perhaps a Republican hasn’t stepped into before. I’m very open to that. But I think this is about, you know, 25 years post the Good Friday Agreement. This is about a new generation. This is about looking towards the future. Some people say Northern Ireland, I say the north of Ireland. I think we should just all be a bit more relaxed about it.”
In her speech to the reconvened Assembly on Saturday, Ms O’Neill pledged to work with unionists to build a better future for Northern Ireland. “We must make powersharing work because collectively, we are charged with leading and delivering for all our people, for every community,” she said. “As an Irish republican I pledge co-operation and genuine honest effort with those colleagues who are British, of a unionist tradition and who cherish the Union.”
Education Secretary Gillian Keegan, asked about Ms O’Neill’s comments on Sky News about a referendum, said: “I don’t want to speculate on that. What is actually fantastic is to see Stormont back up and running. It has been a long time and I know lots of people have been working towards this day.
“That is where things that affect Northern Ireland will be discussed. So, it is right that they are there and it is right that the ministers are now there and able to take big decisions.” Mrs Keegan said she would not try and “second guess what will happen in Northern Irish politics”.