Northern Ireland news

Nationalists say poll support for unity referendum highlights need to prepare for constitutional change

John Finucane said the Dublin government needed to prepare for constitutional change. Picture by Mal McCann

THE LATEST poll highlighting growing support for a united Ireland is a signal for the Dublin government to "step up preparations for constitutional change", a Sinn Féin MP has said.

John Finucane said the research showing more than half of respondents (51 per cent) supported a border poll within the next five years was evidence that an "unstoppable, vibrant and flourishing conversation" about the island's constitutional future had begun.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said the Sunday Times-commissioned poll, which found 42 per cent in favour of a united Ireland alongside 11 per cent undecided, placed a "solemn obligation on parties" to set out a vision for a "new constitutional future".

But Arlene Foster said a border poll would be "absolutely reckless" and that she was disappointed to see some nationalist parties in Ireland and Britain talk about constitutional politics in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.

In addition to finding a majority of people in the north favoured a unity referendum within five years, the survey found voters across the UK believe Scotland is likely to become independent within the next decade, while in Wales and England support for independence is low.

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In Northern Ireland, the research conducted by LucidTalk found 47 per cent want to remain in the UK, with 44 per cent opposing a border poll.

Ms Foster said any vote on Irish unity would be "divisive".

"For us in Northern Ireland, what we have to do is all come together to fight against Covid and not be distracted by what would be absolutely reckless at this time," she told Sky News.

At the end of a week in which East Belfast MP Gavin Robinson said unionism needed to prepare for a border poll, the DUP leader said she was not against having a conversation about a referendum.

"It is not that I'm dead against it – I can argue for the United Kingdom every day of the week because the arguments are rational, logical and they will win through," she said.

"Nobody is suggesting, not even this poll is suggesting, that we would lose if there was a border poll but it would be incredibly divisive."

Ms Foster said most people in the north wanted politicians to "settle down" and deal with the pandemic, not discuss a border poll.

Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill tweeted: "Over 50 per cent of people here support a referendum on unity in the next five years. There is an unstoppable conversation under way on our constitutional future.

"It is time for the Irish government to step up preparations. We can overcome the barriers of partition and build a new Ireland."

Her Sinn Féin colleague John Finucane said: "The time to plan is now and the Irish government must immediately begin preparations for reunification by taking the practical steps of convening a citizens' convention inclusive of the entire island and by bringing forward a green paper on Irish unity.

"A referendum is coming and support for unity is growing - that is clear."

Mr Eastwood MP said the poll's findings reinforced the notion that a decade of Conservative Party policy had "forced a new constitutional reality on the people of Northern Ireland and Scotland against our will".

“The coming conversation places a solemn obligation on those of use who believe in a new future to engage with every community, sector and generation to set out our vision for a country and a society that meets the needs, hopes and aspirations of all our people," he said.

"I genuinely believe that our interests are best served in a new Ireland and that’s reflected in the hours of conversations we have held with people across this island."

Ulster Unionist leader Steve Aiken said all political energy should be focused on "making Northern Ireland a better place to live and work rather than a divisive border poll".

 

"We need to concentrate on the here and now, fostering better relationships and plotting a way through and out of the Covid-19 pandemic," he said.

"As Northern Ireland enters its second century, we should be talking about recovery, renewal and reconciliation.”

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