New Northern Irish leader predicts vote on leaving UK

Lazy eyes listen


Michelle O’Neill, the first Irish nationalist to be appointed as Northern Ireland’s leader, has stated that she expects an Irish unity referendum to take place within the next decade.

In an interview with Sky News on Sunday, O’Neill stated that her campaign was built around becoming the “first minister for all.”

“I want to be a unifier. “I am someone who wants to bring people together,” she emphasised.

When questioned if she agreed with her party leader Mary Lou McDonald’s declaration that a united Ireland is “within touching distance” rather than “decades” away, O’Neill stated that she feels Northern Ireland is experiencing “a decade of opportunity.”

Northern Ireland elects its first nationalist leader.

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.”

Under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement signed between the UK and Irish governments in 1998 to end decades of sectarian violence, the secretary of state for Northern Ireland should call for a border poll (a referendum on Irish unification) if “a majority of those voting would express a wish” that Northern Ireland “should leave the UK and join a united Ireland.” 

A command paper signed by the rival Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) last month outlined that the region’s future in the UK will be secure for decades and that there is “no realistic prospect of a border poll.” However, O’Neill said that she would “absolutely contest what the British government has said in the document.”

O’Neill, the vice president of the nationalist Sinn Fein party, won the election on Saturday. She said the victory “represents a new dawn” for Northern Ireland and stated that her goal was to achieve a united Ireland. 

O’Neill had been first minister-designate since May 2022, when the pro-united Ireland party won the majority of seats in the 90-seat Northern Ireland Assembly (Stormont). However, O’Neill has been prevented from entering office by the DUP, which boycotted the assembly in protest of post-Brexit trading regulations. The party said that the trade restrictions harmed the region’s ties with Britain, thereby weakening the legislature, which relies on a power-sharing agreement to operate.

Prior to O’Neill, 11 straight unionist leaders had led Northern Ireland’s administration since Stormont was created 103 years ago.