I guess it was to be expected. A day after the explosive announcement from Nicola Sturgeon, another nationalist party within the UK raised its voice for independence. To no one’s surprise, it was Sinn Fein – Northern Ireland’s biggest nationalist party. Its leader, Michelle O’Neil, called a preconference a few hours after Nicola Sturgeon’s speech, using the momentum to claim, that Northern Ireland must also have an independence referendum “as soon as possible.” According to O’Neil, “Brexit will be a disaster for the economy, and a disaster for the people of Ireland.”
This is not the first time Sinn Fein has raised the question withdrawing from UK and uniting with the Republic of Ireland. However, this is the first time the party has actual ground to ask the British government to call for a referendum. Similarly to Scotland, the majority of Northern Irish citizens (56%), voted in favour of staying in the EU during last year’s Brexit vote. According to the 1998 peace deal that ended a 30-years bloody civil war, the British government can grant a plebiscite if it appears that majority of the voters will prefer union with Republic of Ireland. The Sinn Fein leader has considered this as the right time. She accused Theresa May and her MPs of “continuing to refuse to listen to the majority view and they are refusing to honour their commitments and agreements.”
Sinn Fein currently has very strong positions in the Northern Ireland Assembly. The party won 27 seats during the elections that took place on 2nd March, Just one seat less than the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP). The current Assembly has 90 seats and in order for a decision to be voted on the party will need to have a majority of 46 votes.
O’Neil’s rebellious statement was welcomed with moderate reaction from the other side. Charlie Flanagan, the Irish Minister of Foreign Affairs in Northern Ireland, commented that referendum on Irish union is “premature” and an issue for the further future.
For the moment, the UK Government has no official reaction to the Sinn Fein party leader’s statement.