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Mary Lou McDonald plays down significance of US newspaper adverts on Irish unity

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Grainne Ni Aodha, PA in Washington DC

16 March, 2023 07:03

Mary Lou McDonald has played down the significance of Sinn Fein backed newspaper adverts in the US calling for a date for an Irish unity referendum.

The Sinn Féin president’s comments came after Taoiseach Leo Varadkar branded the ads unhelpful.

Mr Varadkar expressed concern at the publication of the adverts at what he described as a “sensitive moment” in efforts to restore powersharing in Northern Ireland.

Paid for by Friends of Sinn Fein Inc, they were carried in papers such as The New York Times and The Washington Post on Wednesday morning.

DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson criticised the adverts, saying it was “incredible” that Sinn Fein was focusing on a “divisive border poll campaign” that, he claimed, would create further divisions in Northern Ireland.

Ms McDonald, Sinn Fein vice president Michelle O’Neill, Mr Varadkar and Sir Jeffrey are among politicians from the island of Ireland in Washington this week for St Patrick’s Day events.

The Sinn Fein leader was asked about the adverts at a gala dinner in the US capital.

“They’re ads from Irish American organisations whose view on reunification is well known and held for a very long time and they take out ads every year,” she told the PA news agency.

“So, the focus now needs to be on getting back to work (at Stormont), whatever your political persuasion, whatever your view on the constitutional issue, we need the Assembly and we need government back up and running.”

The traditional week of high-profile engagements in the US capital focusing on the island of Ireland come at a time when the DUP continues to consider whether it will accept the UK and EU’s new post-Brexit deal on trading arrangements for Northern Ireland – the Windsor Framework.

Earlier this week, Sir Jeffrey said the framework does not deal with some “fundamental problems” created by the contentious Northern Ireland Protocol on Irish Sea trade.

The DUP is currently blocking the functioning of devolution in Belfast in protest at the trade barriers the protocol has created between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Ms McDonald said it was reasonable for the DUP to seek clarification on the deal but she made clear it would not be renegotiated. She insisted the DUP should drop its Stormont boycott while it was deliberating on the framework.

“I think it’s very clear on this side of the Atlantic that there is a huge anticipation of progress on the resumption of government,” she said.

“I think it’s very clear that there’s huge support and a big international focus on what happens in Ireland. And I really, really hope that people grasp this opportunity with great positivity. The negotiation is over, the agreement has been struck.

“The DUP have questions for clarification. I acknowledge that and I think that’s reasonable. So do we (have questions), but the reality is that we need to get the Assembly back up and running and we need the executive to work for everybody.”

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