A REFERENDUM on unifying the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland will happen by 2030, the Sinn Fein leader has said.

Mary Lou McDonald told Sky News it was her party’s job to “win hearts and minds” and to "convince people of the opportunity” after the restoration of the Northern Ireland executive.

Devolved government in Northern Ireland was restored after a two-year hiatus last week, with Sinn Fein’s Michelle O’Neill becoming the nation’s first nationalist First Minister.

Sinn Fein won the most seats at Stormont in the election of May 2022.

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The Democratic Unionist Party had been blocking the working of an assembly over concerns around post-Brexit trade agreements.

McDonald said: "What I firmly believe is - in this decade - we will have those referendums, and it's my job and the job of people like me who believe in reunification to convince, to win hearts and minds and to convince people of that opportunity - part of which, by the way, will be really consolidating our relationship with Britain as our next door neighbour and good friend."

Asked if she meant before 2030, McDonald said: “Yes.”

Under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement, there is a pathway for a reunification poll to be held in Northern Ireland.

The legislation states that "if at any time it appears likely" that a "majority of those voting would express a wish that Northern Ireland should cease to be part of the United Kingdom and form part of a united Ireland," then the Northern Ireland secretary will order a vote.

However, according to the Institute For Government, there is no parallel mechanism in the Good Friday Agreement for a referendum in the Republic of Ireland, where McDonald is a politician.

But it sets out that at least two referendums would need to be held - one on the principle of reunification, and then one to amend the constitution if Northern Ireland agrees to join the Republic of Ireland following negotiations.

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McDonald added she did not mean to suggest unity was going to happen “next month,” even though she suggested it was within touching distance.

Speaking about her prediction for the next six years, McDonald said: "Yes and let me say that is not so far away - so there's an awful lot of work that needs to be done.

"I've said consistently to the government in Dublin that they really need to take possession of this conversation that's now under way right across Ireland.

"They need to give it a structure and a place and of course it has to be inclusive - we want to hear from every voice, including those for whom reunification would not be their first option - those who go out and campaign for the union.”

She added: “Nevertheless, we all live together, that's never going to change. We share Ireland.

“We love Ireland, and we want what's best for our children, for our grandchildren. I think that's the strongest, most powerful common ground that we all share."