The announcement of a border poll must be the next step in the peace process, Sinn Féin TD Pearse Doherty told his party’s Easter commemoration in Derry on Sunday.
This year’s commemoration included a march from the Bogside to the City Cemetery along a new route and attracted the largest crowd seen in recent years.
Mr Doherty was the main speaker at the commemoration and in his oration he called on the British government to announce a constitutional referendum in the North.
“The Good Friday Agreement also makes provision for a Border Poll. This is the next step. Recent census figures show that Britishness is less and less a way of thinking in the Six Counties.
“That is no guarantee of Irish Unity. We must make it relevant to all and show how our entire country would benefit. I am aware that there is a bloc of opinion south of the border which doesn’t see Unity as being in their interest. We must constantly be making our case and convincing everybody, north and south, that United Ireland is the way forward,” he said.
He also said that unionists have nothing to fear from republican policies. “Our vision is of a new republic for the 21st century which, like the Proclamation of 1916, guarantees religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities for all citizens; cherishes all the children of the nation equally and is anti-sectarian. This means equal rights for those in same sex relationships, ethnic minorities and those of all creeds and none. The new, agreed Ireland we seek to build is inclusive, where all the elements of the Irish nation — including those in this country who regard themselves as British — are comfortable, secure and can find the fullest expression of their identity,” he said.
He also said the legacy of the past must be addressed. “We must accept that republicans have caused pain to others as well enduring great hurt ourselves.
“There is deep hurt and pain within both the republican and unionist communities, and across Ireland and in Britain.
“The only credible way to deal with the past is through an all-embracing, independent, international truth recovery process. Republicans have said time and again and I repeat here again that we will co-operate with such a process, and will not be found wanting,” he said.
Mr Doherty also said that Derry is becoming a republican city. “I have every confidence that the day is approaching that Derry will have a republican MP and Sinn Fein will be the largest force on the Council. Republicans are about nation building. We are about laying the foundations for a new republic— a real republic with social justice and equality at its core. Let us go from here today even more determined to build that republic,” he said.
During the commemoration, Tiernan Heaney, a nephew of Denis Heaney, read the 1916 Proclamation. Foyle Sinn Féin MLA Raymond McCartney read the Derry brigade roll of honour while Kelly McFadden read the roll of remembrance.
Wreaths were laid at the republican monument on behalf of Ógra Sinn Féin, Óglaigh na h’Éireann, Derry Sinn Féin and the Derry Republican Graves Association. Sara Griffen sang a lament during the commemoration and brought the proceedings to a close by singing the National Anthem.