CORK North Central TD Jonathan O’Brien ‘absolutely’ agrees with calls for a referendum on a united Ireland within the next five years and believes people from a unionist background may support it on economic grounds.
Michelle O’Neill, Sinn Féin’s leader in the North, made the comments during Easter commemorations but has been criticised from some quarters.
Labour Party Leader Brendan Howlin suggested it was alarmist to make the remarks while Brexit and Assembly negotiations are ongoing.
Mr O’Brien said Ms O’Neill’s suggestion is a reasonable one.
“It is a provision of the Good Friday Agreement (GFA), which is 20 years old now,” Mr O’Brien told the Evening Echo.
“I don’t think it is premature to say that, within a quarter of a century of the GFA, people in the North should have the opportunity to vote on whether they want to be part of a United Ireland or remain a part of Britain.”
He dismissed fears about aggravating relations with unionist politicians in the North and Britain.
“If anything, it probably highlights the need for us to progress the situation in the North,” he said.
“We have a dysfunctional state, which clearly has major issues facing it in terms of Brexit. You have the assembly which is not up and running.
“There have been intense negotiations to try and get it back up an running. Unfortunately, the DUP haven’t been able to come to an agreement with ourselves to achieve that. But it is kind of two separate arguments. What we are saying here is that, yes there issues in term of the Assembly and Brexit. But they are issues we are dealing with on a daily basis
“This is about having a referendum to let people have their say on whether they want to see any constitutional change in the North in terms of being part of a United Ireland or remaining with the status quo.”
He believes Brexit and other economic issues could play a big role in the outcome.
“It would create a debate on the benefits of a United Ireland, not just socially and culturally but also the economic benefits, particularly in light of what is happening with Brexit,” he said.
“The majority of people in the North voted to remain part of the European Union but are now going to be dragged out of it regardless.
“I think it would create that debate and you might be surprised the number of people from a unionist background would actually support a United Ireland on economic grounds. No one should have anything to fear from casting a vote, that is what democracy is about.”