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The Good Friday Agreement is the Way Forward - Sinn Féin President Mary Lou McDonald

Sinn Féin President At A Recent Meeting with Friends of Ireland on Capitol Hill.

THE Good Friday Agreement has provided the "toolbox" to achieve a united Ireland without risking a return to violence, Mary Lou McDonald has said.

The Sinn Féin leader dismissed suggestions that a bid for Irish unity would spark a violent reaction from loyalism.

She described the 1998 accord as the "compass" that would enable peaceful navigation towards an united Ireland.

"That's why it's so important that people like me, and people across Irish republicanism and nationalism, but also in unionism and loyalism, are very clear that whatever our views or whatever our desired outcome, that the only way forward is democratic, peaceful and orderly," she told the PA News Agency.

Ms McDonald said Sinn Féin wanted to hear unionist and loyalist opinion "so that everybody is in a shared space in respect of that issue".

She said the "democratic architecture and process" ensured all views could be heard.

"There is no reason, there is no excuse, there is no basis for violent actions by anyone," she said, noting that the sporadic anti-protocol violence was "advanced by a small group of people".

She called for a citizen's assembly on a border poll to take place as soon as possible, insisting it would be the first order of business should Sinn Féin triumph at the next election.

She rejected the notion that unity would be "simply bolting the north on to the south".

"Because partition has meant that duplication and we lose in that – it's costly, it's inefficient and it holds us back," she said.

"So, we would want to be very careful about not making that mistake again."

She said "careful consideration" would be given to giving unionist politicians a quota in a united Ireland parliament.

"Our unionist population would have a considerable representation in an all-Ireland parliament, actually much stronger than their current strength at Westminster, for example," she said.

"So it's certainly not something that I am advancing but I'd like to hear the argument for it, I'd like to hear how that works out and what exactly that means."

The biggest issue, Ms McDonald believes, will not be around symbols, but public services such as healthcare.

"When I am out and about over many years, talking to people, and discussing the prospect of change and unity, the first thing that's raised with me is healthcare," she said.

"Not flags, not anthems, not any of that. The first issue that people raised with me as a matter of practical concern is, will I have to pay to see my GP?"

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