Sinn Fein wants to find a balance between its quest for Irish unity and addressing the real concerns of people’s lives, said Mary Lou McDonald.
The party leader insisted the process of planning for unification could continue by establishing a citizens’ assembly on all islands alongside efforts to solve bread-and-butter problems such as skyrocketing living costs and staggering healthcare waiting lists.
Ms McDonald made the comments as she presented Sinn Féin’s manifesto for the forthcoming Northern Ireland general election with senior party colleagues in Belfast.
The document includes a pledge to pay each household £230 to ease the pressure of rising energy bills.
Another priority of the manifesto is securing a date for a border survey on reunification.
Ms McDonald declined to commit to a specific timetable for holding referendums on either side of the border, but predicted “significant changes will occur over the course of this decade”.
“We’re Irish Republicans, people know our position on Irish reunification and referendums,” she added.
“There’s no secret about that, but we know that you can push for it, plan it, but also work very constructively and not only work constructively, but also deliver for people and everyone in the here and now.
“And there has to be a balance between those two things, and our campaign is designed to recognize these bread-and-butter realities of people’s lives.”
Ms McDonald said scheduling the session “doesn’t mean you’re missing everything else”.
“Everybody here will tell you at the door, the question for people is how do I do my electric bills, how do I make sure we can just carry on and keep our heads above water in many, many homes, and that includes these work families.
“So we have to manage all of that and the Assembly and the Executive have to be constructive, partnership platforms to discuss, debate and plan for that future and yes referendums will of course happen, they’re an integral part of the Good Friday Agreement, that turns 25 next year.”
The DUP has claimed Sinn Féin will be emboldened to press for a referendum if it ousts the DUP as the largest party after the May 5 election.
DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has insisted a “divisive border poll” is the Republican party’s sole focus, to the detriment of all other issues.
Unionist rivals have accused him of trying to get the Unionist electorate to vote for the DUP in a bid to cement support for his party after a series of opinion polls showed it lagging behind Sinn Féin.
While a page of Sinn Féin’s manifesto is dedicated to unity planning, that wasn’t one of the issues the party focused on when it unveiled the document Monday morning.
However, Ms McDonald and Vice President Michelle O’Neill faced a series of media questions on the issue after the launch.
The party leader dismissed the suggestion that the party was deliberately de-emphasizing unification in order to blunt the DUP’s campaign strategy.
She also denied that a border poll would be “divisive”.
“As people who believe in the future of this country, we will always take the position that a united Ireland or a new Ireland works for everyone, can work for everyone,” she said.
“It’s not divisive, in fact the proposal is very comprehensive.”
As well as the £230 for each household, a scheme that would cost £177m, Sinn Féin also pledges to pay a further £100 to beneficiaries previously eligible for Stormont’s Energy Support Scheme.
The party also said it would support the diversion of an extra £1billion to the region’s struggling healthcare system.
Sinn Fein also criticized the DUP’s leadership of the Business Department, saying more needs to be done to promote what it called a benefit of the provision in the Northern Ireland Protocol from Brexit, which allows local companies to operate freely in the UK market and sell in EU market.
Commenting on the Manifesto’s pledges to unity, Ms O’Neill said: “This is us”.
She added: “But we’ve also focused on all the other issues that we know weigh heavily on people.
“This is the cost-of-living crisis, so we’re going to put money in people’s pockets, so we’re going to try to fix the healthcare system, which is broken not only by the pandemic but also by 10 years of Tory austerity before that, and we have a lot of work ahead of us.
“So the only way we can turn this tanker around, especially in healthcare terms, is if all parties work together.
“We are committed to that. So on the first day, immediately after this election, when the public has their say, we’re going to say we’re going to show up and ask others to show up, and we’re going to ask others to join us to try to fix things that are going on for now our society is broken.”
The DUP overthrew the Stormont executive in February when it ousted First Minister Paul Givan in protest at protocol.
Sir Jeffrey has warned his party will not return to a power-sharing regime after the elections until the protocol is replaced either by an agreed deal with the EU or by the UK government’s unilateral suspension.
https://www.independent.ie/irish-news/politics/sinn-fein-striking-balance-between-irish-unity-and-bread-and-butter-issues-as-it-launches-northern-election-manifesto-41586267.html Sinn Féin strikes a startling balance between Irish unity and bread-and-butter issues in the release of the North’s election manifesto