Northern Ireland

Former senior NIO official says united Ireland ‘likely’ within 20 years

Former senior NIO official Chris Maccabe

A former senior British government mandarin has said there’s a likelihood of a united Ireland during the next 20 years.

Chris Maccabe, who worked periodically at the Northern Ireland Office from the early 1970s through to the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, said Brexit had reignited the constitutional debate.

The one-time special assistant to then RUC Chief Constable Sir John Hermon and former director of regimes in the Northern Ireland Prison Service sits on the SDLP’s New Ireland Commission.

On the prospect of Irish unity, he said: ‘’If it could be worked, it would be excellent.”

Mr Maccabe said Sinn Féin First Minister Michelle O’Neill’s 10-year target for Irish unity was “unlikely” but he didn’t rule out constitutional change in the longer term.

Sinn Fein First Minister Michelle O’Neill has ruled out imposing water charges in Northern Ireland
Chris Maccabe said Sinn Fin First Minister Michelle O’Neill’s 10-year target for Irish unity was 'unlikely'. PICTURE: LIAM MCBURNEY/PA (Liam McBurney/PA)

“If you ask me, within 20 years, there’s a likelihood. I’m not saying it couldn’t be within 10 years, but I think I’d be foolish and I would just be taking a punt if I said I was certain, or pretty certain it was going happen within 10 years,” he told the BBC

He said he believed current British governments would “generally have no objection” to a united Ireland.

“The Good Friday Agreement, however, provides a legal and internationally binding requirement for a majority in Northern Ireland to wish that,” he said.

“That was very important but I don’t believe that this British government, or any other British government, would have taken action to prevent that.

“Back in 1972 I saw a top secret document, I was in the secretary of state’s office so I saw this from Alec Douglas-Home, former prime minister and current foreign secretary, saying that ‘we need to get out of Ireland, I don’t want direct rule’.”