Tuesday

26th Jan 2021

Irish PM opens door to reunification vote

  • Unionist mural in Belfast: Brexit has opened the door to reunification demands in Ireland (Photo: Miss Copenhagen)

Irish prime minister Enda Kenny has raised the possibility of a vote on Irish reunification in the wake of the Brexit referendum.

The taoiseach said on Monday (18 July) that if people of Northern Ireland clearly showed the will to leave the UK and join the Republic, they should have the right to a referendum on the issue.

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He also called on the EU to prepare for the scenario. The centre-right Fine Gael party leader drew a parallel to German reunification following the fall of the Berlin Wall.

“The discussion and negotiations that take place over the next period should take into account the possibility ... that if there is a clear evidence of a majority of people wishing to leave the United Kingdom and join the Republic that that should be catered for in the discussions that take place,” Kenny said.

“Because if that possibility were to happen, you would have Northern Ireland wishing to leave the United Kingdom, not being a member of the European Union, and joining the Republic which will be a member of the EU.”

The Irish leader also urged the bloc to curb attempts to punish Britain for its vote to leave the EU, warning that such an approach could inflame anti-EU sentiment across the continent.

"It is in nobody’s interests for the UK and the EU to have anything but the best possible future relations," he said.

A majority of voters in Northern Ireland, and those in Scotland, voted to remain in the EU while most people in England and Wales voted to leave.

The Irish leader campaigned to keep Britain in the EU.

Immediately after the UK voted to leave the EU, the taoiseach replied to nationalist calls for a referendum by saying that relations between the Republic and Northern Ireland would "require careful consideration”, but they should be approached "in the same spirit of partnership that had underpinned the peace process" on the island for decades.

Ireland has been hit hard by consequences of the Brexit vote.

The UK is the second biggest destination for the country’s exports after the US, and the biggest for its services.

Theresa May said before she became British prime minister that the details of the open border between Ireland and the UK would be discussed as part of Brexit talks with Brussels.

The open border accord is widely seen as a tangible end of the sectarian violence that claimed more than 3,500 lives in Northern Ireland in the 1970s, 1980s and early 1990s.

The UK dismantled its military checkpoints and watchtowers on the border following the 1998 Good Friday accord, giving Catholics in Northern Ireland the freedom to maintain close ties with the southern Republic while staying part of Britain.

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