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Simon Coveney seeking united Ireland 'in his political lifetime'

Simon Coveney said he wanted to see a united Ireland in his 'political lifetime'. Picture by Hugh Russell

THE Republic's Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney has said he would like to see a united Ireland in his "political lifetime".

In a surprise statement that is expected to buoy northern nationalists but draw stern criticism from unionists, the 45-year-old Fine Gael deputy leader said he was "constitutional nationalist" who aspired to a 32-county republic.

"I would like to see a united Ireland in my lifetime – if possible, in my political lifetime," he told the Oireachtas Good Friday Agreement Committee yesterday.

Mr Coveney's remarks come against a background of deteriorating Anglo-Irish relations.

A number of commentators believe the uncertainty around Brexit has brought Dublin-London relations to their lowest ebb since the early 1980s.

The foreign affairs minister's comments are understood to be first time in decades that a high-ranking member of republic's government has voiced such unequivocal pro-unity sentiments.

The remarks will be seen by some as a bid to 'out green' Sinn Féin, which has been enjoying strong electoral growth in the south over recent years and could potentially be a partner in the Republic's next government.

However, Mr Coveney has stressed that any moves toward Irish unification should be careful, learn from the past and ensure more steps are taken to protect and include a unionist minority.

Last year Leo Varadkar, then the Minister for Social Protection, said he envisaged a united Ireland "at some point in the future".

But speaking last month, the taoiseach said he was not in favour of changing the north's constitutional status on a "50 per cent plus one basis".

The remarks, made in an interview with the BBC, sparked outrage from Sinn Féin and the SDLP, who called on the Fine Gael leader to protect the Good Friday Agreement.

In 1998, the electorate in the south voted to remove Articles 2 and 3 of the Republic's constitution which laid claim to the northern six counties.

Meanwhile, during yesterday's committee session Mr Coveney also warned that a proposed amnesty for soldiers accused of crimes during the Troubles has the potential to undermine legacy processes.

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