Northern Ireland news

Former diplomat David O'Sullivan warns against early border poll

Former EU ambassador to the United States David O'Sullivan has warned that an early border poll would be "deeply unhelpful"
Seamus McKinney

A former senior diplomat has warned that an early border poll would be “deeply unhelpful” for Northern Ireland.

Former EU ambassador to the US David O'Sullivan said that while reunification is a “legitimate” objective, linking the constitutional issue to the Northern Ireland Protocol would only further destabilise many unionists.

Mr O’Sullivan was speaking last night in the inaugural “European Spirit of Peace” lecture to the John and Pat Hume Foundation.

He said the EU vision inspired the late SDLP leader in his ambition for what would be possible in Ireland and it was always clear that Brexit would be “particularly toxic” for Northern Ireland.

“While it is not explicitly spelled out in the Good Friday Agreement (though there are passing references), the entire basis of the agreement is predicated on the assumption of joint membership of the European Union by Ireland and the United Kingdom."

Mr O’Sullivan said faced with Brexit, the only practicable option was to instal border checks at ports and airports in Northern Ireland.

It was not surprising that unionists found the change unsettling as Northern Ireland has become, “even in a small way”, a “semi-detached part of the UK”.

He added: “I consider that raising the issue of possible reunification and, especially, the prospect of an early border poll, is deeply unhelpful at this point in time.

"Reunification is a legitimate objective but somehow conflating the constitutional issue with the practical aspects of the Protocol can only serve further to destabilise many in the unionist community."

The John and Pat Hume Foundation was set up following Mr Hume’s death last August to promote the legacy established by the Nobel laureate and his wife.

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