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'Brexit exposes failure of partition' – O’Neill

21 January, 2019 - by Michelle O'Neill

Brexit has exposed the failure of partition and the strategic opportunity that now exists to end it must be seized, Sinn Féin Deputy Leader Michelle O’Neill has said.

Speaking at a major event in Derry’s Guildhall to mark the 100th anniversary of An Chéad Dáil, the party Vice President called for the transition to Irish unity to begin.

“Brexit challenges all of the old assumptions about the previous constitutional, political and economic status quo in the north and south of Ireland,” Michelle O’Neill commented.

“It has exposed the undemocratic nature and failure of partition in Ireland which created an artificial future which has and will remain contested.

“The fulcrum of the Brexit crisis is the border in Ireland.

“There is a growing sense that circumstances are rapidly changing which will inevitably lead to the final break-up of the constitutional structures of the United Kingdom which Theresa May and the DUP say they are committed to preserving.”

Michelle O’Neill said the Sinn Féin leadership had made it clear to British Prime Minister Theresa May in the event of a no-deal crash-out Brexit that it is absolutely incumbent on the British government to put the constitutional future to the people here through a unity referendum.

Michelle O’Neill said, “The Sinn Féin leadership has met with the British Prime Minister and the British Secretary of State over the past few months.

“We have made it clear that in the case of a Brexit crash-out and no-deal scenario that it is absolutely incumbent on them to put the constitutional future to the people here through a unity referendum.

“Their planned imposition of Brexit in Ireland once again demonstrates the failure of partition, and exposes further the gaping democratic deficit inherent in a partitioned Ireland.

“People from across this society, and even those of a British identity, are questioning what will be the merits, benefits of staying within the union after Brexit.

“The EU has said in the event of reunification the whole of Ireland will automatically be subsumed back into the EU.

“So the debate on our constitutional future is as much about our relationship with Europe as it is about Ireland itself.

“The Good Friday Agreement provides a peaceful democratic pathway to Irish Unity.

“There will be no unilateral rewriting of the Agreement by Theresa May, or anyone else, because it is an international Treaty lodged at the UN and had the overwhelming support of the majority of people who live on this island and who voted in support of it 20 years ago.

“The issue of Irish Unity has taken on a new dynamic because of Brexit.

“Beyond Brexit demographics are changing and so too is the political landscape.

“This cannot be ignored. A unity referendum will be held.

“The political momentum on change is moving in that direction.

“The Good Friday Agreement gives people the opportunity and choice to decide our future together.

“Now on the centenary anniversary of the First Dáil there is an onus on the Irish government to plan for unity. To become a persuader for unity. To build the maximum agreement and for all progressive nationalists and republicans to secure and win a referendum on unity.” 

Full text of Michelle O’Neill’s speech at tonight’s event in the Guildhall, Derry to mark the 100th anniversary of An Chéad Dáil, 


A chairde agus chomrádaithe

I want to begin by condemning the weekend bomb attack on Bishop Street, here in Derry City and the alerts which have taken place today.

It’s well past time for those involved in such actions to turn the page and support the task of advancing the peace process and republican and democratic goals or close the book, because there is zero support for armed actions in this society. 

We will not allow these individuals to deflect us from this task or destroy the process of peace-building. 

There is absolutely no justification for these actions. The GFA provides a democratic and peaceful avenue to pursue political change including the central republican objective of unifying our country. 

This bombing is totally unacceptable and, ironically, comes at a time when support for a peaceful  democratic  transition to a United Ireland as set out in the GFA is at an all-time high.

There is no support or tolerance for these types of actions. Those involved need to accept that reality.

That said, it is fantastic to join you all here in Derry’s Guildhall to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the First Dáil Éireann.

When the TDs of An Chéad Dáil met in the Round Room of Dublin’s Mansion House a century ago, they did so as the legitimate and democratic representatives of the Irish people.

They were the embodiment of a nation’s desire to be free.

Just weeks earlier, in the historic election of December 1918, the country had overwhelmingly voted to finally break the connection with England which then – as now – was the source of so many Irish ills.


Women and men came together from every class, creed and background to reject British interference in Ireland and vote for abstentionist Sinn Féin MPs.

Of a total of 105 seats, 73 were won by Sinn Féin candidates who refused to take their seats at Westminster and instead established the First Dáil.

That election – and that act of democratic defiance – has important parallels for us today.

When nationalist and republican Ireland turned their backs on Westminster in 1918, they did so because they knew the solutions to Irish problems would never be found in London, where they were created in the first place.

This was not just about the taking of an oath of allegiance to an English Queen.

That was certainly part of the equation.

But the key issue was and is one of sovereignty.

Today, once again, the nationalist people of the North have turned their back on Westminster, electing seven Sinn Féin all-Ireland abstentionist MPs to represent their best interests.

And it is an insult to that electorate when Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and the SDLP demand that these MPs abandon the mandate they have been given by the people in order to go to Westminster, swear an oath to obey a foreign monarch and take their place on the backbenches of historical irrelevance.

With breath-taking hypocrisy, these same parties will all line up to celebrate and commemorate the democratic patriots of 1919.

But they are nothing more than rhetorical republicans and our message to them is clear.

Just like the patriots of An Chéad Dáil, Sinn Féin will not be sending Irish representatives to Westminster.

We as Irish republicans believe in the sovereignty of the Irish people.

We are opposed to monarchies and elites of all kinds.

Those who voted for Sinn Féin in election after election see no disadvantage in our MPs being active abstentionists.

Active abstentionism is about energetically representing citizens and providing republican leadership.

It’s about working with those citizens as equals and empowering communities to effectively fight for their rights, whether they are cultural rights, economic, national or political rights.

Sinn Féin has an unparalleled reputation in this regard, and do not let anyone tell us otherwise.

We won’t take lectures from Micheál Martin, Leo Varadkar, Colum Eastwood or anybody else!


The vision of the Proclamation; the courage and generosity of the men and women of 1916, and of those who met in the Mansion House three years later, contributed to the production of that Democratic Programme of the First Dáil.

The Irish Republic they established 100 years ago was based on the proposition that the people are sovereign and that the public right and welfare comes before the interests of private profit and property.

A real Republic, where people are citizens, not subjects; where they have fundamental rights, not arbitrary privileges; where there is equality, not elitism; and where there is unity, not partition and division.

Never was that principle of the Democratic Programme needed more than it is now 100 years on.

The Rising and the establishment of the First Dáil was a declaration of freedom heard all around the world.

The patriots of this revolutionary period believed that a better Ireland is possible.

But what of Britain’s response to Ireland’s peacefully declared and democratically endorsed desire for freedom in 1919?

Predictably, the self-declared mother of democracy refused to recognise the democratic will of the Irish people.

Irish democracy meant nothing to England. It was collateral damage in Britain’s wider agenda to protect and expand the empire in its war with the other European powers.

An Chéad Dáil was quickly declared illegal and the Irish people were forced to mount a revolutionary war in order to assert their right to national sovereignty.

That history has always reverberated through Irish politics and we are still dealing with the legacy of it today.

Almost 100 years later the two states created by partition have failed to meet the objectives or vision set out in the Proclamation and the Democratic Programme.

Partition created two narrow, conservative, elitist, sectarian regimes.

In the North a deeply sectarian unionist regime institutionalised decades of inequality and injustice which the nationalist and republican people confronted and smashed.

In the south poverty, emigration and inequality was rampant.


Today in 2019 Sinn Féin remains on the frontline confronting these injustices too.

But, much more must be done.

We are for a new Ireland that builds, repairs and organises this society into one that is democratic and inclusive, and based on equality, freedom and social solidarity.

A new Republic that embraces the ethos of the Proclamation and the Democratic Programme and shares its wealth more equitably, looks after its aged and its young, provides full rights for people with disabilities, liberates women, and delivers the highest standards of public services accessible to every citizen.

There are immediate challenges facing those of us who want a united independent Ireland.

These include getting the Irish government to change its policy from one of acquiescing to the union with Britain to one of becoming a persuader for Irish unity; getting the Irish government to begin preparations for Irish unity; and lastly engaging with those of an Ulster British identity on the type of Ireland we want to create.

I believe that the opportunities for real change are within our grasp.

Sinn Féin, with others, can unite our people and unite our country, to help build, shape and lead a new, modern and progressive Ireland.

One in which all identities and traditions have a place and the opportunity to contribute to our shared nation – together.

Sinn Féin is about transforming Ireland and uniting our country for everyone.

This is our raison d’être as a political movement.

We don’t want to hark back to old Ireland.

We are not sentimentalists – we are realists.

We want to build, shape and be part of leading a New Ireland.

We don’t want to face inwards and talk about a united Ireland.

We want us to face outwards and listen to those who don’t want a united Ireland.

Because it is our task to persuade those people, sectors and communities of why it’s in their best economic and political interests to share power not only at Stormont – but on an All-Ireland basis together.

I believe that Irish unity, on the basis of equality, offers the best future for all the people of our island.

Therefore, we need to listen and understand unionist fears, because they too must belong.

Not as a minority.

But as equals and critically as nation builders and political leaders.

Those of us who are united Irelanders must sell our vision.

We are confident about the economic, social and political benefits that a new Ireland will bring.


Brexit has once more brought into sharp focus the contradiction of partition at the heart of Irish politics.

It has created huge uncertainty and directly challenges democracy and Irish national interests.

Just as in 1918/19, the British Parliament is again ignoring the democratic will of the Irish people who do not want Brexit and see there is no good in it for Ireland.

Once again, Britain views our democracy, our economy and the future of our country as collateral damage in their wider European agenda. Our interests are expendable to them.

That has always been the way – and always will be.

Irish interests will never be best served in an English parliament. Even with the best will in the world that would still be the case.

Our future, our potential, our prosperity as a nation rests in the reunification of our country. That is the best way to serve the needs of all our people. That is the best way to maximise the resources of our island.

Our priority is to defend the Good Friday Agreement which is under constant attack from Tory/DUP Brexiteers; and to advance the Irish peace process; the political and constitutional arrangements that were achieved as a result of the Good Friday and subsequent agreements, and our republican objective of Irish reunification.

This is the pathway to success.

There is no other way.

A huge re-evaluation has been provoked about the island’s economic and political future including those of a unionist or British identity in the six counties.

A positive, national conversation about how our constitutional, political and economic future can be reimagined and redesigned has been started by civic and progressive nationalists – but the Irish Government must take their head out of the sands and understand that this reality is in fact occurring.

That the political and demographic landscape on the island is changing and they must fulfil their constitutional obligations by planning for constitutional change and a referendum on Irish unity.

Real potential now exists for a mature, rational and inclusive conversation in Ireland about our shared future – about a new relationship between Ireland and Britain, and between the island of Ireland, Europe itself, and the international community.

Ireland’s future, North and South, should be allowed to evolve in the context of new, progressive, democratic international relationships based upon social solidarity and mutual democratic co-operation.

Brexit challenges all of the old assumptions about the previous constitutional, political and economic status quo in the north and south of Ireland.

It has exposed the undemocratic nature and failure of partition in Ireland which created an artificial future which has and will remain contested.

The fulcrum of the Brexit crisis is the border in Ireland.

A strategic opportunity exists to maximise the democratic argument for an end to partition and to persuade for Irish unity, both domestically and internationally.

A new phase of political change is not only emerging - it has arrived - and the significant strategic political influence of the international community should now assist with planning for the transition towards a new, agreed, united Ireland.

It is time to end the division of Ireland and prepare the transition to Irish unity.


Citizens are looking to the future to see where their best interests are served.

Change is in the air.

Over the past two elections in the north the unionist majority has gone.

The notion of a perpetual unionist majority - the very basis of partition - is gone.

Be in no doubt that a Unity Referendum is coming, and we are preparing for it.

But the ultimate task is to win it.

The Irish people were denied their democratic entitlements in 1919 when the men and women of An Chéad Dáil sat for the first time.

Today, Sinn Féin’s aim is exactly the same as it was then – to end the connection with England and establish a genuine all-Ireland Republic.

That is our vision. That is our aim. That is our goal.

And that, is what this generation of republicans is going to achieve.

Míle buóochas agus go raibh míle maith agaibh go léir.”

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