By Michelle Devane and Cate McCurry, PA
Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald has called for “urgent” plans for a border poll on Irish unity.
She said “now is the time” to seize the opportunity to begin a dialogue on the matter.
It comes after census figures revealed Catholics outnumber Protestants in Northern Ireland for the first time since the partition of the island.
The Census 2021 figures showed that 45.7 per cent of the region’s population said they were either Catholic or brought up as a Catholic.
“Government cannot continue to look the other way – change is happening. And it’s for all of us to seize the opportunity,” Ms McDonald said.
“A future of unity and progress draws closer and a new Ireland is on the horizon.”
Speaking in Dublin at the launch of Sinn Féin’s Budget 2023 proposals, she said her party would make financial provision for the establishment of a citizens’ assembly on Irish reunification.
“I believe that this matter is now urgent,” she said.
“It’s time for an inclusive conversation about the future of our country.
“And that is a future that belongs to everybody who calls this island home.”
Ms McDonald said the Government had “stuck its head in the sand” about the issue to date.
“The conversation, the planning, the dialogue which has to be inclusive needs to start now,” she said.
She added that Sinn Féin believes the “best vehicle” to do so would be a Citizens’ Assembly.
The Sinn Féin leader said it would not be of huge cost to the State financially, adding that what is lacking is the “political realism and political ambition to seize this moment so we’re making that call again”.
She described the Shared Island Unit as Taoiseach “Micheal Martin’s baby”, adding it was “good enough but it’s not a substitute for what actually needs to happen”.
“To those who have said to us consistently now is not the time, don’t be rushing the fences, now is the time. Now is the time to talk, now is the time to share ideas, now is the time to plan.”
Ms McDonald previously said a referendum on a united Ireland could be held within the next five to 10 years.