Mary Lou McDonald, the President of Sinn Féin, says she is optimistic but not naive about the future of the island of Ireland.

During a press conference on Tuesday afternoon, after the DUP said it was conditionally prepared to return to power-sharing, McDonald was asked what her Sinn Féin party colleague Michelle O'Neill's position as 'First Minister in waiting' of Northern Ireland means for their plans for the future of the island of Ireland.

Sinn Féin became the largest party in Northern Ireland for the first time during the May 2022 elections. As such, the party, which aspires to a united Ireland, is entitled to the First Minister position once power-sharing, which has been collapsed since February 2022, is restored.

“Striving for the new Ireland isn’t some kind of dusty, legal, constitutional matter, although it is that," McDonald said on Tuesday during the press conference.

“It really is about us collectively having a conversation about what Ireland can look like and will look like in the next five years, ten years, 20 years, for the next generations.

“For us, one of the challenges is to bring as many people as we possibly can into that conversation. And that has to include people of all religious perspectives, and none, people of every class, color, creed, and of course, it has to include those that define as unionist, as loyalist, as British, because we are very clear that the new Ireland will have within it, British citizens or subjects, whichever sits more comfortably with them, and that has to be part of a big societal dynamic and change.

“So it’s very exciting, I feel very excited by that, I feel very optimistic about our future together.

“I am not naive, we are not naive. We know that there will be challenges and there will be forces that will push back against change but we are all about a changed Ireland and a new Ireland for everybody.

“And what’s more, I think the turn of events, the historical turning of the wheel, and the electoral place that we’re at, I think signifies that what we talk about now is possible.

“As a matter of fact, in historic terms, it’s within touching distance. 

“And I think that’s a very exciting thing and I hope that people will find that a very welcoming conversation full of opportunity and not defined by fear, at all, ever.

In the early hours of Tuesday, Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, head of the DUP, announced that his party had agreed to a package of measures, paving the way for the long-awaited restoration of the Northern Ireland Assembly.

Donaldson said, in part, that the package of measures "safeguards Northern Ireland’s place in the Union."

Later on Tuesday, responding to McDonald's comments on a "new Ireland," Matthew O'Toole of Northern Ireland's Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) highlighted his party's New Ireland Commission, adding: "A New Ireland is about all of us, not just one political party."

We are closer now to constitutional change than ever before, and via our @NewIrelandComm we are working to expand the conversation, but to claim a SF FM by itself advances that cause is frankly self-serving.

A New Ireland is about all of us, not just one political party.

— Matthew O'Toole (@MatthewOToole2) January 30, 2024