Martin McGuinness, deputy first minister in Northern Ireland and member of Sinn Fein, recently said that he expects a referendum vote as to whether or not Northern Ireland will remain a part of the United Kingdom as early as 2016.
In an interview with The Irish Examiner, McGuinness said that he is hopeful that a referendum could be held at the next term of the Belfast Assembly in 2016.
"It just seems to me to be a sensible timing,” McGuinness told The Irish Examiner. “It would be on the question of whether or not the people of the Six Counties wish to retain the link with what is described as the United Kingdom, or be part of a united Ireland. It could take place anytime between 2016 or 2020-21.”
"I think, in all probability,” added McGuinness, “the people who have got the power to put that in place won’t even contemplate it this side of the next Assembly elections, which conceivably could be 2015 or 2016."
As per the Good Friday Agreement, the final decision as to when a referendum will be held is in the hands of the British secretary of state.
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Recently, the Nationalist government in Edinburgh has roused up some controversy with their own considerations to leave the United Kingdom as well, saying that it will be put to a vote as soon as 2014.
In regards to what he believes citizens are looking for by way of reunification, McGuinness said, “People will make a decision on the potential that the reunification of Ireland can bring for them in terms of political stability and in terms of having economic levers in their own hands.”
He also added that he does not believe that the Republic of Ireland’s recent economic disasters will greatly influence the potential referendum vote.
While a Catholic majority is expected within the next generation in the Six Counties, McGuinness “said it was ‘too sectarian’ to expect people to vote on strictly religious lines.”
In other moments in his interview with The Irish Examiner, McGuinness appears to have relaxed his stance on Queen Elizabeth II. He noted that he has been invited to garden parties at Buckingham Palace, and that he felt the Queen’s mention of what "we would wish had been done differently, or not at all" at her speech at Dublin Castle in May was a direct reference to the Bloody Sunday massacre forty years ago.