Northern Ireland news

United Ireland 'remains a slogan' with few unionists prepared to discuss it, former senior European official says

A possible border poll raises many difficult questions, a former European official has said

A UNITED Ireland "remains a slogan" with few unionists even prepared to discuss the idea, a former senior European official has said.

Geoff Martin, from Bessbrook, Co Armagh, is a former head of the representation of the European Commission in the UK.

He was also a policy adviser to the Commonwealth Secretariat for 13 years until his retirement several years ago.

Mr Martin wrote that despite speculation around a possible border poll, there is "no consensus" on what a united Ireland "means or what form it might take".

And he wrote that before any serious discussions on a united Ireland can begin "convincing answers will be required to many questions about financial responsibilities, taxation, social, health and welfare benefits, and many others".

He wrote that although the principle of consent has been widely accepted and that "violence has no part in any solution and that coercion, psychologically pursued or even legally contemplated would be anathema", unionists are reluctant to even discuss Irish unity.

"There is no sign whatever that a majority of unionists is even prepared to discuss a united Ireland, undefined, or one that would remove the emotional and cultural feelings of attachment to their sense of Britishness," he wrote.

In an article - a version of which was first published by The Federal Trust think-tank - Mr Martin said a border poll raises many difficult questions.

"What would happen if a border referendum was to be held and carried, but by only a slim majority, leaving a substantial minority deeply unhappy?" he wrote.

"Would the two governments be prepared to move ahead on that basis? What would the Europeans and the Americans think? And what would the loyalists in the north and the many unionists who sympathise with them be prepared to do?"

He wrote that it is too early to predict the long-term effect of the Northern Ireland Protocol on business.

Mr Martin said even if the north does "reap the rewards of single market membership as predicted" it may not have an impact on our constitutional status, adding that there is "little sign that Britain, now acting alone in the world and fast losing the trust of its former allies, remains anything other than the protective parent of true blue unionism within the boundaries of the north".

In the wake of loyalist anti-Protocol protests and riots earlier this month, Mr Martin called on all political parties across Ireland to "declare themselves against coercion, against violence and against the outdated slogans that still accompany them".

"This would constitute a first practical step forward towards a discussion aimed at resolving real issues and bridging the yawning gap which continues to exist between hope and reality in a culturally divided island," he wrote.

To read Mr Martin's longer article, visit

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