Citizens assembly needed to overhaul housing and health, Sinn Féin warns

Citizens assembly needed to overhaul housing and health, Sinn Féin warns

Sinn Fein President Mary Lou McDonald TD, who says she 'cannot grasp' why the government is not working on an Irish National Health Service. File Picture: Gareth Chaney/Collins

A citizens assembly to look at overhauling housing and healthcare in a united Ireland is urgently required, the Sinn Féin president has said.

Mary Lou McDonald has said work must also begin on an Irish National Health Service and she "cannot grasp" why the Government is not focusing on this.

She believes a border poll will be "won well" in the coming decade but has hit out at the Government for "being behind the people" and for failing to prepare.

In an interview with the Irish Examiner, Ms McDonald said: "It is now a failure of the government at this stage that we don't have a forum or a citizens assembly."

She said the assembly would have to be made up of people from across the island of Ireland and would focus on "actively preparing" around core issues including health, education, and housing.

"These are conversations that are being had across sectors, people are talking about these things but the government is turning its face away from it, it's a huge mistake," she said.

A united Ireland could provide an "incredible opportunity" to create an Irish National Health Service

She suggested that a newly formed citizens assembly could be structured in a number of ways and said it could be divided into regional discussion across the island or could be broken down by sector.

"I think there are 100 different ways that you could structure the work. But the first thing you have to do is make the political decision that you are actually going to do this."

Turning to health, she said a united Ireland could provide an "incredible opportunity" to overhaul the system to create an Irish National Health Service which most other countries would "grab with both hands".

While she said the Government's Shared Island Unit will allow for conversation, she said it is not enough and will not prepare fully for a unity referendum.

She said the Shared Island Unit should have the health service as a priority issue on its agenda but it's not included in the remit.

"Some people talk about reunification almost as in the language of almost threat or you know that it's a problem. This isn't a problem. This is an incredible opportunity and I think other nations would probably grab it with both hands, but for some reason, you have that very very marked reluctance in successive Governments now to actually accept what is abundantly obvious to one and all, including unionism," Ms McDonald said.

"When the time comes that the question is put, I think, in fairness, people need to have the sense that the preparation work has been done, and that there are answers to those questions. I don't think it would be an acceptable scenario where in the abstract, you're asking people the biggest constitutional question of our time."

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