Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald has said “everything” will be up for discussion in order to reach agreement on a potential united Ireland, including potential concessions to Unionists over the Irish flag and National Anthem.
Ms McDonald spoke to reporters in Limerick on Monday, before addressing the annual general meeting of the Irish Creamery and milk Suppliers Association (ICMSA).
Ms McDonald was asked for her reaction to new research which showed that many voters in the Republic were unwilling to make concessions to Unionists to accommodate them in a united Ireland.
Almost half of all voters said changes to the anthem and flag would make them less likely to vote for a united Ireland in a referendum in the Republic, according to an Ipsos opinion poll published on Monday.
Ms McDonald said: “The data also shows that the issue of health and economic well-being far outplay any of the legitimate issues around flags or anthems, and I think we need to be careful here not always to reach for the old reliables of flag and anthem.”
However, when pressed further, in the context of the tricolour and anthem, she said that while her preference was for the status quo to remain, “every single thing will be discussed”.
“Of course we need to talk about those things (flags and anthems), but people are very sensible and they know in their day-to-day lives that healthcare and health provision, economic well-being, economic opportunities - that’s really where it is at,” she said.
“Above all else, I think it is now perfectly clear that we need to start the planning (for a united Ireland), start the conversation, and engage people.”
“People have lots to say, people have lots of ideas on all of these issues, but it has been my personal experience for a long time, that when people come to talk about reunification, north and south, the number one issue that is raised is health,” she said.
“Interestingly, there is appetite for an all-Ireland national health system, and there is a huge disenchantment with the HSE and the current healthcare provision in the south, but also we have issues around resourcing in the North.”
She said concentrating the conversation on the flag and anthem was “the wrong way to come at the future” because it highlights “that someone wins, someone loses, someone advances, someone concedes”.
“I don't think that’s how the conversation is going to happen at all, because I think it is in everybody’s interests that we have a properly resourced, accessible health service.
“...We need to start talking about how do we organise the services that we all rely on, how do we build the best opportunities for all of us. It’s a moment of huge excitement, and I really don't think we should start from the position of winners and losers.”