Northern Ireland

Varadkar says he believes vote on Irish unity would be 'very divisive'

Former First Minister Peter Robinson delivered his first public lecture at Queen's University Belfast. Picture by Queen's University Belfast/PA Wire
Former First Minister Peter Robinson delivered his first public lecture at Queen's University Belfast. Picture by Queen's University Belfast/PA Wire

TAOISEACH Leo Varadkar has said a vote on Irish unity in Northern Ireland would be "very divisive".

The Fine Gael leader also said he did not want to see a border poll soon because he does not think it would be successful.

His comments came after former first minister and DUP leader Peter Robinson said he believed holding fixed generational polls on Irish unification could be a way to stabilise politics in the north.

Delivering a lecture at Queen's University in Belfast on Thursday, Mr Robinson said he would be very confident that citizens would choose to stay within the UK.

But reflecting on the aftermath of the Brexit vote, he said the prospect of a simple yes/no poll to deal with "colossal constitutional change", and which could be carried with a majority of just one vote, was a "recipe for chaos" on the island.

As such, he said there was a need for processes and timescales to be agreed in advance, rather than having to "tackle the issue on the fly" if unification was ever backed.

Mr Varadkar said yesterday he did not want a border poll in the near future as he did not think it would help the political situation in the north.

"I think a border poll would be defeated and very divisive," he said.

"We should be respecting the primacy of the Good Friday Agreement (GFA) and, at the heart of the GFA, is power-sharing within Northern Ireland, ever-increasing cooperation within the north and south and peace in Britain and Ireland."

He said that while the 1998 accord provided for the possibility of a border poll, and would allow it to pass by a majority of one, he did not think the time or the conditions were right.

"I think the focus should be on getting the institutions up and running again, rather than focusing on a border poll," he said

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said the principle of consent as enshrined in the Good Friday Agreement must never be undermined but that work was needed to "build an Ireland that works for all".

"Peter Robinson’s comments suggest that somehow unionist votes count for more than nationalist votes – that is ludicrous and untrue," he said.

"I say to Mr Robinson – those days are long over and they are never, ever coming back."

Ulster Unionist leader Robin Swann said talk of a border poll was a "distraction to the ongoing abdication of political responsibilities".

"To hold a border poll or entertain the prospect of a generational border poll would create uncertainty and instability and throw out any prospect of introducing normal politics to Northern Ireland," he said.

Meanwhile, a survey has suggested less than half of people in Northern Ireland identify themselves as sBritish.

The study found that only 47 per cent of those questioned felt strongly British - less than the number who consider themselves Irish (59 per cent), Northern Irish (58 per cent) or European (57 per cent).

The survey, conducted for the BBC by Lucid Talk, found that just four per cent of Catholics defined themselves as British while 29 per cent of Protestants considered themselves Irish.

Just over a quarter said the UK's decision to leave the EU has made them more likely to vote for a united Ireland.

Some 45 per cent of those asked said they would vote for Northern Ireland to stay in the UK, while 42 per cent would vote for Northern Ireland to join a united Ireland.

Just under 13 per cent indicated they were undecided or would not vote, leaving the result potentially in the balance.