Northern Ireland news

Micheál Martin likens his brand of nationalism to Seamus Mallon's

Micheál Martin likened his brand of nationalism to former SDLP deputy leader Seamus Mallon. Picture by Julien Behal Photography/PA Wire

TAOISEACH Micheál Martin has likened his brand of nationalism to former SDLP deputy leader Seamus Mallon.

The Fianna Fáil leader, who has established a Shared Island Unit in his new government, cites the late Newry and Armagh MP's perspective on living peacefully alongside his neighbours rather than having a preoccupation with the constitutional issue.

But unlike Mr Mallon, who died in January this year aged 83, the taoiseach believes the provision in the Good Friday Agreement that requires a 50 per cent-plus one majority in the north to secure Irish unity should be retained.

Months before his death, the former deputy first minister argued for a process of 'parallel consent', claiming that a simple majority would not deliver the “kind of agreed and peaceful Ireland we seek” and increase the potential for violence.

“Look, I’m more in the Seamus Mallon view that we learn to share this island," Mr Martin told The Irish Times.

"To me, the genius of the Good Friday Agreement is that we don’t always have to end up talking about the constitutional status of the island – we just have to get on with the agreement."

The taoiseach argued that a border poll in the near future would be "very divisive, very quickly" and likened a referendum on Irish unity as a "mirror image of the Brexit proposal insofar as [it was] just ‘Let’s have a poll, irrespective of the consequences’".

He said he felt Sinn Féin has "resiled... from the immediacy of a border poll".

"Not in the elections, and they keep repeating it to their base, but I think it would have the opposite effect of what they’re trying to achieve," he said.

"It would get people’s backs up. It creates divisiveness, which in my view it would be the antithesis of what we’re trying to do."

He said the aim was to "unite people here, in a common purpose".

"I don’t think it should be a majoritarian, territorial approach – that will not suffice," he said.

Mr Martin said the "spirit behind" what Mr Mallon argued was the "key point".

"He said his neighbours have been here for 400 years – it’s about time we learned to live together.

"This idea, that we must have it in five years’ time or 10 years’ time – it doesn’t work. The sloganeering doesn’t work. Anyone can do the rhetoric. I could do it."

The taoiseach added that Brexit had "created anxiety on all fronts, both within the nationalist community and within the unionist community".

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