'I believe it can occur in my lifetime': Christchurch Irish Society president on a united Ireland

Sinn Fein deputy leader Michelle O'Neill and party leader Mary Louise McDonald. Photo: Reuters
Sinn Fein deputy leader Michelle O'Neill and party leader Mary Louise McDonald. Photo: Reuters

An Irish community leader in Christchurch says the election of Sinn Féin in Northern Ireland is a historic day which will hopefully continue the peace process.

Kieran McErlain. Photo: Christchurch Irish Society
Kieran McErlain. Photo: Christchurch Irish Society
The party, lead by Michelle O'Neill, secured 29 per cent of first-preference votes compared with 21 percent for the pro-British Democratic Unionist Party.

It was the first time the Irish nationalist party has topped the voting in the British-controlled region

O'Neill said there should now be an "honest debate" around the party's goal of unifying the territory with the Republic of Ireland.

Christchurch Irish Society president Kieran McErlain said two of his grandparents travelled from Ireland to New Zealand in the mid 1920s.

"I remember granddad saying that one thing he will never see in his lifetime is a united Ireland, and that was 30 years ago.

"But with the developments of today, the family still back home - as we call it - back in Ireland, it will be great to see a united Ireland."

He has a lot more hope for reunification after the election results.

"To see a united Ireland would be the wishes of a lot of people, I believe, and for me to see that, I believe ... it can occur in my lifetime.

"It will be a process that takes time and within the next ten years, it could be a major change."

The Sinn Féin victory will not change the region's status, as the referendum required to leave the United Kingdom is at the discretion of the British government and likely years away.

ALL-IRELAND ASPIRATIONS

Sinn Féin was long shunned by the political establishment on both sides of the Irish border for its links to Irish Republican Army violence during three decades of fighting over Northern Ireland's place within the United Kingdom that ended with a 1998 peace deal.

Since then it has reinvented itself to become the most popular party in the Republic of Ireland, where it has carved out a successful base by campaigning on everyday issues such as the cost of living and healthcare.

It followed a similar path in the Northern Irish elections, where it focused on economic concerns rather than Irish unity to appeal to middle-ground voters.

The election follows demographic trends that have long indicated that pro-British Protestant parties would eventually be eclipsed by predominantly Catholic Irish nationalist parties who favour uniting the north with the Republic of Ireland.

All unionist candidates combined secured slightly more votes than all nationalists in Thursday's election.

The cross-community Alliance Party scored its strongest ever result with 17 seats as it bids to establish itself as a third pillar of the political system.

- RNZ / Reuters

 

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