British identity 'would be protected in united Ireland'

image copyrightPress Eye
image captionMichelle O'Neill said unionists' British identity could be protected in a united Ireland

Sinn Féin has said the Irish constitution could be changed in a United Ireland to protect citizens with a British identity.

The party's northern leader Michelle O'Neill was speaking at a debate in west Belfast.

She said constitutional recognition of people with a British identity could help make a united Ireland more acceptable to unionists.

Sinn Féin has said it wants a poll on Irish unity within five years.

However, in March Prime Minister Theresa May said the time was not right for such a referendum.

The DUP has said it would be "divisive and destabilising".

Speaking on Wednesday night, Sinn Féin's Mrs O'Neill said: "In my vision for a new Ireland, that means that you make sure that people's Britishness is protected."

She said this could be done by changing the constitution.

'Incorporate everybody'

Mrs O'Neill said a "healthy debate" was needed.

"We need to talk about how do we shape the future together - republicans, nationalists, unionists, loyalists, everybody - how do we shape a new Ireland together, because I think the language is very, very important," she said.

"Whenever I talk about a united Ireland, I don't have a prescriptive view about it, but I think everybody in this room will have a view and something to contribute.

"But it's not just a nationalist argument, it's a wider argument because the new Ireland that I envisage incorporates everybody."

Last September, BBC Northern Ireland commissioned an opinion poll in the wake of the Brexit referendum.

This suggested that 63% of people in Northern Ireland supported staying in the UK whilst only 22% said they would vote to join a United Ireland.

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