Northern Ireland news

Nationalists welcome call by Peter Robinson for unionism to be ready for border poll

Former DUP leader Peter Robinson speaking at Queen's University Belfast in 2018. Picture by Queen's University Belfast/PA Wire.

NATIONALISTS have welcomed Peter Robinson's call for unionism to prepare for a border poll by creating a think tank to help argue its case.

The former DUP leader characterised fellow unionists who fail to recognise the potential for a referendum on Irish unity as indulging in "complacent and dangerous thinking".

Mr Robinson previously urged unionism to get ready for a border poll in 2018, likening it to insuring your house while not expecting it to burn down.

He is the first significant unionist figure to acknowledge the real possibility of a forthcoming referendum on constitutional change.

Neither the DUP nor Ulster Unionists made any comment on the former first minister's latest remarks, which came in the first of what is expected to be a fortnightly column in the News Letter.

He argued that winning a border poll will be dependent not only on traditional unionists but those who "do not vote for a party with unionist in its title and those who do not normally vote at all".

Calling for a long-term campaign to sell the merits of maintaining ties with Britain, he said it must be "steady and consistent espousal of the real value of United Kingdom membership, not a three-week splash".

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said the comments were welcome and discussions around a future referendum needed to be based on "hard facts and hard truths".

"We all need to renew our thinking as to what political shape Britain and Ireland will take in this new century," he said.

"My appeal has always been this – try to convince us of your vision for the future and we’ll try to convince you of ours."

Sinn Féin's Emma Sheerin said it was "imperative" to plan for constitutional changes.

“It is part of the growing discourse on a united Ireland – many people are now considering their future in a post-Brexit context," the Mid Ulster MLA said.

Gerry Carlile, the recently appointed chief executive of civic nationalism group Ireland's Future, said "all debate and conversation is welcome".

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