Sinn Fein wants another referendum for Northern Ireland to join Republic

The coalition government is now facing calls for an referendum to be held in Northern Ireland.

The coalition government is now facing calls for an referendum to be held in Northern Ireland.

Senior Irish republican politicians say the ballot could be held in 2016, just two years after the Scottish independence vote. The vote in Northern Ireland would ask whether it wants to remain in the UK or become part of a united Ireland, according to Sinn Fein, the main pro-Irish republican party in the province.

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The UK government has the final say on whether a referendum on the future of Northern Ireland can be held.

Stormont Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, the Sinn Fein leader, said he would like to see a referendum held after the next election for Northern Ireland’s assembly, which is likely to happen either in 2015 or 2016.

“It could take place anytime between 2016 and 2020-21,” Mr McGuinness said. “I don’t see any reason whatsoever why that should not be considered.”

Just as 2014 is a key year for Scottish nationalists, marking the 700th anniversary of Bannockburn, so 2016 is important for Irish republicans, as it marks the centenary of the Easter Rising, one of the pivotal moments leading to indepedence in the south.

Another leading Sinn Fein member echoed Mr McGuinness’s comments.

Pearse Doherty, a member of the Dàil, the Irish Republic’s parliament, said: “I do hope the referendum happens in the next term of the assembly government.

“I would suspect that it will.”

It is not clear if many people from Northern Ireland’s historically republican Catholic communities would want to unite with the Irish Republic, particularly when Dublin is struggling to emerge from a deep financial crisis.

The state is the biggest employer in Northern Ireland and the province’s population enjoys a number of benefits – including universal free healthcare through the NHS – which are not available in the Republic.

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The 2001 census showed that 40 per cent of Northern Ireland’s population classified themselves as Catholic, 46 per cent were Protestant and 14 per cent said they had no religion.

Details of religious affiliation from the 2011 census have yet to be released.

Under the 1998 peace deal that ended the IRA’s campaign against British rule of Northern Ireland, if a referendum is approved by London, another one cannot be held for another seven years.

A referendum held on the issue in 1973 in Northern Ireland was boycotted by republicans – fewer than 1 per cent of Catholics turned out to vote according to some reports. The result was a 99 per cent vote in favour of staying within the United Kingdom.

The republican boycott contributed to a turnout of only 58.7. In addition to taking a majority of votes cast, the UK option received the support of 57.5 per cent of the total electorate.