Sinn Féin President Mary Lou McDonald has said that she believes an Irish unity referendum will take place before the end of the decade, stating that she believes Ireland and Northern Ireland will be united within her lifetime. 

McDonald was speaking at the Irish Unity Summit in the Great Hall of New York's Cooper Union on Friday. The event, which was organized by a number of Irish-American organizations, featured presentations, panel discussions, and speeches about the next steps on the potential united Ireland. 

Standing on the same stage once used by Abraham Lincoln and James Connolly, McDonald said the Irish and British Governments must "face up to the reality that a momentous current of change is pulsing throughout Ireland". 

"A new chapter of Irish history is being written. Change is real and happening in real-time," McDonald told the audience on Friday. 

"For the first time ever, we have a nationalist leading government in the north of Ireland in a state designed and engineered to ensure that this could never happen. A state designed and engineered to ensure a permanent unionist majority," McDonald said.

"That is now gone. Sinn Féin leads the executive and local government. Combined nationalism outpulls combined unionism." 

McDonald added that the partition of Ireland in 1921 has "failed since the start", adding that there has been a "profound" political, economical, and social cost to partition. 

"The policies implemented by the Tory government over the last decade have spelt disaster for the North, for nationalists and unionists alike. Tory austerity has ravaged vital public services and it's damaged the lives of workers. 

"Tory governments in London never cared for the people of the North of Ireland." 

In the event of a united Ireland, McDonald said she would treat anyone who identifies as a unionist as an equal. 

"I see every person who argues for the preservation of the union with Britain, every person of British identity as an equal," McDonald said. "No caveats, no exceptions. All equal.

"To those citizens of a unionist or British tradition, I say, we seek a future of partnership, equality, and progress. The New Ireland we seek belongs every bit as much to the families of the Shankill as the families of the Falls. Every bit as much to the families of Ballymena as it does to the families of Ballymun." 

McDonald pointed to a recent report published by civic organization Ireland's Future, which includes proposals for a unity referendum by the end of the decade. 

"I believe that that is the timeline. I believe that that is achievable.  More and more people are now seriously considering the future and the shape of constitutional change." 

As per the Good Friday Agreement, only the British Secretary of State for Northern Ireland can call a referendum on Irish unity. The landmark agreement states that Northern Ireland will remain part of the United Kingdom until a majority of people in Ireland and Northern Ireland choose otherwise. 

McDonald also said a general election is approaching in Ireland and added that Sinn Féin will put "reunification at the very heart of our agenda" if the party forms a government. 

She pointed to the success of the Good Friday Agreement in establishing peace on the island of Ireland in 1998 and said the agreement empowered the citizens of Ireland to decide their own future. 

She also said the success of the Good Friday Agreement proves that peace is attainable in Gaza, drawing widespread applause from the audience. 

"The success of the Good Friday Agreement teaches us that no conflict is intractable," McDonald said.

"We need to fuel a peace process based on international law. Based on the two-state solution, with the aim of achieving self-determination and freedom for the Palestinians and a secure Israel. Because you see, even in the darkest of times, we must seek the light.  We must bring the light." 

Earlier in the day, New York Governor Kathy Hochul addressed the summit and said that the Good Friday Agreement must be protected at all costs. 

"It is now upon all of us, whether you're Irish Americans, Irish New Yorkers, or direct from the Emerald Isle, to uphold this peace, this unique time in our history, where people can come together and put aside their differences and say that we want the violence to end," Hochul told the Summit. 

"Let what happened with the Good Friday Agreement - and its endurance over the last 26 years - give hope to other parts of our world that are in conflict today.

"Let that be an inspiration to those who are out there fighting to protect their citizens, their homeland."