Republic of Ireland news

Micheál Martin says border poll 'not on government agenda for next five years'

Taoiseach Micheál Martin speaking to the media after giving an address on the Shared Island initiative at Dublin Castle. Picture by Julian Behal Photography/PA Wire 
James Ward, PA

Micheál Martin has said a border poll is not on the agenda for his government in the next five years.

The taoiseach was speaking at Dublin Castle at the launch of the Shared Island Initiative, one of his government's flagship policies.

The project has seen €500 million ringfenced for investment in North-South initiatives over five years.

But the taoiseach sought to allay unionist fears that the unit would serve as a "stalking horse" for a united Ireland.

He said: "The government has said that, for the next five years, a border poll is not on our agenda.

"I've also made it clear that my approach is through consensus and listening and engagement.

"Unionists, from my experience over the years, get the necessity and importance of engagement North/South.

"There is no ideological opposition to the idea of working North/South whilst respecting people's identity and constitutional perspectives.

"We want to create opportunities through the shared unit where unionism, both civic unionism and political unionism, can input, in terms of various fora that might be created or through political dialogue itself."

The taoiseach said scoping would take place on the viability of high-speed cross-border rail links.

He said progress is overdue on a number of other North-South initiatives, including the A5 transport corridor, the Ulster Canal and the Narrow Water Bridge.

He added: "Through the Shared Island Fund, the government is ready to meet our commitments to these projects.

"We will be working closely with the Executive to seek to move ahead with full delivery, without undue delay."

He insisted that the development of the Shared Island Unit would not affect anyone's identity.

He said the "logic of a small Ireland sharing its resources are obvious", and did not need to raise constitutional questions.

"As taoiseach, I respect and I affirm everyone's right on the island to make the case for the constitutional future they wish to see for Northern Ireland, whether they are nationalist, unionist or neither," he said.

"The genius of the agreement is that we do not need to be defined or dominated by constitutional questions, as we were in the past.

"We can all work together for a shared future without in any way relinquishing our equally legitimate ambitions and beliefs - nationalist, unionist or neither."

The taoiseach pointed to the 1.3 million people who have been born on the island of Ireland since the Good Friday Agreement was signed, and urged them to contribute to the dialogue.

"Their views and actions are fundamental to our shared future," he said.

Mr Martin noted that his understanding of Northern Ireland has evolved over time.

He said he had grown up with a very "negative attitude of Britain's role in Northern Ireland, like many others in my generation, and many of the prejudices that came with that".

"You need to stand back from prejudices and back from the rhetoric and simplistic narratives and move beyond all of that and get down to pragmatic engagement."

He added that he is "wedded" to the core of the Good Friday Agreement.

"That's about unifying hearts and minds. It's about developing a sense of community in people. It's not territorial to me. It never was."

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