Sinn Féin President Mary Lou McDonald has said fears expressed by a young woman from Derry about the potential dilution of her identity in a reunified Ireland had demanded a forthright answer: You will be as British in a united Ireland as you are today.
Mrs. McDonald recalled the exchange, which took place during her visit to the New Gate Fringe Festival in Derry last August while reaching out to unionists at a civic engagement event in the Queen’s University, Belfast, this week.
The Sinn Féin leader said that as far as her party was concerned people who self-identified as being from the British tradition would be at the centre of the new Ireland envisaged by republicans.
Recounting her visit to the Protestant, Unionist, Loyalist (PUL) oriented New Gate Fringe Festival, which coincides with the Apprentice Boys of Derry’s annual ‘Relief of Derry’ demonstrations, she said English, Scottish and Welsh identities would be fully respected in a united Ireland.
“In Derry last year, a young woman, a highland dancer asked would there be a place for her and her dancing in a united Ireland. It was a genuine and sincere question,” she said.
“I assured her that highland dancers will be most welcome, and I said, you are British today and you will be British tomorrow regardless of whether the border exists or not. I look forward to that young woman dancing in a united Ireland.
“The right to British citizenship and all that entails is safeguarded. There can be no diminution of these rights in a new and united Ireland,” she declared.
Mrs. McDonald also suggested that unionist parties, whether the mainstream politicians in the South liked it or not, would inevitably govern in Dublin.
At present, the northern electorate of 1,242,698, instead of sending representatives to a Dáil that currently represents 3,305,110 electors from the 26 Counties, elects politicians to a Westminster parliament dominated by the interests of the island of Britain’s 45,601,198 voters.
Mrs. McDonald said that in these circumstances a united Ireland made sense.
“The Unionists will not only have a home in Ireland, they will have a place at the table. A place at the centre of political life and not left in the margins of Westminster. The Protestant, Unionist and Loyalist citizens are part of the diversity of our nation.
“You are as much as part of the discussion to shape a new Ireland as republicans and nationalists. We are partners in this enterprise. Our shared, but oft times, troubled history can be reconciled.
“We are unique and diverse in our traditions, but I believe that together, united, the people of our nation add up to a sum greater than our individual parts.
“We seek to unite Protestant, Catholic and dissenter.
“There are no second-class citizens in this land. There will be no second-class citizens in this land. We have much to discuss, and much to agree. The debate is on and change is all around. The notion of a perpetual unionist majority is gone,” said Mrs. McDonald.