Northern Ireland news

Nationalists welcome Gavin Robinson's remarks on border poll preparations but big unionist parties stay schtum

Gavin Robinson said unionism needed to ready itself for a border poll. Picture by Mark Marlow

AN acknowledgement by DUP MP Gavin Robinson that unionism must ready itself for a border poll has been welcomed by nationalists.

But despite requests from The Irish News, neither Mr Robinson's own party or the Ulster Unionists have responded to the remarks, which echo those of former DUP leader Peter Robinson.

The East Belfast MP, earmarked by some as future DUP leader, said the former first minister was "absolutely right" to warn that a looming vote on the north’s constitutional future cannot be ignored.

The former Belfast lord mayor is the most senior unionist to acknowledge the growing likelihood of a referendum on Irish unity.

Analysis: Gavin Robinson's remarks may signal a new chapter in Irish politics

Mr Robinson told The Irish News it is “incumbent on unionists not to take the status quo for granted”.

Sinn Féin MP Chris Hazzard said there was a growing discussion about Irish unity and "what a new Ireland would look like".

“No one has anything to fear from Irish unity – it has huge potential for improving our economy, transforming our healthcare services and enhancing the prosperity of the whole island," he said.

“There is room for everyone in that discussion and I would encourage people to take part in helping to shape a new and better Ireland.”

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood welcome Mr Robinson’s comments and called on unionism to "engage in thought and argument about the future of this island".

"The conversation that’s happening doesn’t need to be defined by divisive old ideas, it doesn’t need to be entrenched and antagonistic," he said.

"I firmly believe that we can shape a conversation between all the people on this island that is aspirational, focussed on a future that best meets their needs."

The Foyle MP acknowledged that his East Belfast counterpart would disagree with his desire for Irish unity but that they could agree "on the need for a dynamic conversation".

Niall Murphy, the secretary of civic nationalism group Ireland’s Future, said the DUP MP's comments made more pressing the requirement for the British government to outline their proposed criteria for a referendum on Irish unity.

"Ireland’s Future believes the threshold set out in the Good Friday Agreement has been met and that a referendum date should be set for some time in the coming years," he said.

"We believe the initial preparatory work should be commenced immediately with the establishment of an all island citizens’ assembly."

Mr Murphy said the Dublin government needed to facilitate an "all-island Citizens’ Assembly" to discuss Irish unity, while the British government should "agree a date with others for a unity referendum to take place in the next number of years".

In 2018 former first minister Peter Robinson said unionism needed to prepare for a border poll, warning of "complacent and dangerous thinking”.

"I don't expect my own house to burn down but I still insure it,” the former DUP leader told the MacGill Summer School.

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