Northern Ireland news

Ex-Taoiseach Bruton criticises GFA's border poll provision, accusing negotiators of not 'thinking through' ramifications

Taoiseach John Bruton and British PM John Major pictured at Hillsborough Castle in 1995 for the launch of their framework document on peace negotiations
Paul Ainsworth

FORMER Taoiseach John Bruton has said the negotiators of the Good Friday Agreement failed to consider how calling a border poll based on a perceived nationalist majority in the north would affect Ireland as a whole.

The former Fine Gael leader, who was taoiseach from 1994 to 1997, said those pushing for a border poll today could "repeat the error" of partition and "add to divisions, rather than diminish them" by insisting on a reunification vote based on provisions within the agreement.

In an article in the News Letter, Mr Bruton hit out at the recent call by his successor Bertie Ahern for a border poll to be held on the thirtieth anniversary of the agreement in 2028.

Mr Bruton, who together with British Prime Minister John Major released a 'framework document' on peace negotiations in 1995, warned that setting dates "without having first done all the groundwork" could lead to a repeat of the 2016 Brexit referendum that he said caused "lasting division" in the UK and "the oppression of minority viewpoints".

He also criticised the recent campaign in the US by the Friends of Sinn Féin organisation that took out adverts in the Washington Post and New York Times calling for a border poll. The half-page adverts appeared under the heading 'A United Ireland - Let the people have their say'.

Speaking of the agreement's provision to hold a border poll when the secretary of state feels "a majority" would opt for reunification, Mr Bruton said those who drafted the document did not consider the implications of the vote to be held in the Republic at the same time.

He said: "It does not require the UK government to consult with the Irish government before calling such a poll, even though a poll on the same subject would have to take place in Ireland too, probably on the same day, and the effects of the polls would be felt across the whole island.

"This omission suggests to me that the provisions for border polls in the GFA were not properly thought through by the negotiators at the time."

Mr Bruton also warned that a simple majority of 51 percent for reunification in a poll would undermine the 1993 Downing Street Declaration signed by his predecessor Albert Reynolds and John Major, which states reunification should be achieved by those who want it "persuading those who do not, peacefully and without coercion or violence".

"I do not think a poll in favour of unity, carried by a small margin, and before a majority of the unionist community have been persuaded of the merits of Irish unity, could truly be said to meet that criterion agreed between the governments," Mr Bruton added.

"It might be legally valid, but not politically wise."

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