Northern Ireland

UUP 'will not engage with single direction talks' on united Ireland

Ulster Unionist Party leader Steve Aiken said his party would not support 'single direction' unity talks.
Ulster Unionist Party leader Steve Aiken said his party would not support 'single direction' unity talks.

THE leader of the Ulster Unionist Party has said it will not engage with 'single direction' talks on a united Ireland.

Steve Aiken was responding to a framework document produced by Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael which proposes a special unit to work towards "consensus on a united island".

The coalition government plan states: "The unit will examine the political, social, economic and cultural, considerations underpinning a future in which all traditions are mutually respected."

Mr Aiken said: “The Ulster Unionist Party welcomes, what hopefully is, the formation of a government in the Republic.

Read more: Analysis - Unification unit will seek to engage with unionism (premium)

"As a party, and also holding a key ministerial post in the Executive, we look forward to working with Dublin as we build and rebuild strong N/S and E/W links that have sadly been broken over the last few years.

"As to speculation around the formation of a ‘united island unit’ in the Department of the Taoiseach, it is up to the new government to decide what it wishes to do, but our position remains that we will not be engaging in ‘single direction’ discussions, and remain convinced that the United Kingdom offers the best prospects for the future of all the people of Northern Ireland.

"In any case, there is no doubt that given the current health crisis, our time will be better spent in dealing with the outcomes in both jurisdictions of the health and economic impacts of Covid across all of these islands and our people".

A spokesman for the DUP said it also wants to see a ‘shared island’ where all traditions are mutually respected.

"The constitutional future is a matter for the people of Northern Ireland. There is no mention of a border poll in the document and no appetite for one in Northern Ireland.

"As unionists we believe NI is best served as part of the UK whilst supporting cooperation for mutual benefit.”

Alliance MP Stephen Farry said there are "more immediate concerns on people's minds" and the party's priority "is to build integration and promote reconciliation".

"We are aware of multiple debates around the constitutional situation across these islands", Mr Farry said.

"We are willing to engage in any constructive and rational discussions on an entirely without prejudice basis in what is a fluid situation."

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood welcomed the move, saying: "It is right that the Irish government lead those preparations".

"It has long been the view of the SDLP that in order to win a border poll, we must do the hard work of preparation," he said.

"Those of us who want to see constitutional change have a responsibility to engage in a positive and respectful conversation with our unionist neighbours with a view to building a New Ireland.

"We are very happy that the new Irish government will create a unit to take this work forward and we look forward to working positively with them", he added.

However, Sinn Féin said the plan "simply does not go far enough".

Mid Ulster MLA Emma Sheerin said: "The next Irish government needs to seriously and actively plan for Irish unity instead of merely paying lip service to it.

"Across Ireland it is clear there is a growing demand for Irish unity. The conversation on unity is already well underway.

"And while Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil claim to support the Good Friday Agreement, they continually run away from one of its key elements; a referendum on Irish unity.

"Time and again it has been shown that as an island we work best when we work on an all-Ireland basis.

"That is why bringing about Irish Unity ought to be a focal point of any new government," she added.

Read more: Analysis - Unification unit will seek to engage with unionism (premium)