Northern Ireland news

Border poll should take place in 2028, says Bertie Ahern

Bertie Ahern said a border poll should take place 30 years after the Good Friday Agreement. Picture by Liam McBurney/PA Wire
Cate McCurry, PA

Former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern has said that a border poll on a united Ireland should be held on the 30th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement.

The former Fianna Fáil leader said that while a referendum on a united Ireland is not "for now", the right time to have one would be in 2028.

Mr Ahern said that he raised the issue when he met with former US senator George Mitchell, former British prime minister Tony Blair and former US president Bill Clinton to mark the 20th anniversary of the agreement.

"I said at that stage two things have to happen," Mr Ahern told Newstalk.

"One is that we have to have institutions under the Good Friday Agreement that were stable for a prolonged period - we haven't had that ever since the agreement in 23 years," Mr Ahern told Newstalk.

"I don't like the idea of 'border poll', because it is an issue of sovereignty and how it will happen.

"The second point I made was the propriety work that made sense of all of this, which has really only commenced. There's the Shared Island unit, which is something I support.

"There's a whole lot of other academic work going on.

"Both of those things have to happen and what I said at that stage, that any idea of a vote that was seen in the Good Friday Agreement, should be probably on the 30th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, which is at the end of the decade.

"I don't see it being held in the short-term and I think those two conditions have to be fulfilled.

"On the other side, it was an absolute understanding to bring republicans and nationalists on side, that somewhere in the future would be a poll. That was set out on the constitutional section of the Good Friday Agreement and also in the British-Irish Agreement which is the annex to the GFA.

"That aspiration has to be there and it has to be fulfilled. I don't think it's for now."

Mr Ahern made the comments after a poll found a majority of people in Northern Ireland would like to see a referendum on the reunification of Ireland within the next five years.

The Sunday Times last week commissioned a series of surveys across the four nations of the United Kingdom to gauge attitudes towards the union.

It found voters across the UK believe Scotland is likely to become independent within the next decade, but in Wales and England support for independence is low.

In Northern Ireland, it found 47% want to remain in the UK, with 42% in favour of a united Ireland and a significant proportion - 11% - undecided.

Asked if they support a referendum on a united Ireland within the next five years, 51% said yes compared to 44% who are against the idea.

However, it was criticised by First Minister Arlene Foster, who described a border poll on a united Ireland as "absolutely reckless".

Mr Ahern, who is still involved with a number of groups in Northern Ireland, said that there is a "huge dislike" of the Northern Ireland Protocol within loyalism.

He said he regularly meets with groups from both sides of the community.

"I understand within loyalism, within loyalist groups, (there is) a huge dislike to the protocol and particularly the border down the Irish sea," Mr Ahern added.

"There is some anxieties and we have to watch that."

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