Government to use fears over peace process in Brexit talks
Taoiseach concedes 'Ulster poll' unlikely any time soon
Published 20/07/2016 | 02:30
The Government will use fears of threats to the peace process to defend the North's interests in upcoming Brexit negotiations, the Taoiseach has signalled.
Enda Kenny told the Dáil he did not believe a referendum on Irish unity, which he mooted for the first time ever on Monday, was likely to happen in the near future.
He said Dublin had no mandate to negotiate for the North - but had obligations as co-guarantor with London of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.
"It's very important that we have a responsibility as co-guarantor to understand the challenge Northern business people and entrepreneurs face arising from Brexit," the Taoiseach said.
A government source later said: "Peace is fragile up there. The economic situation is one of the root causes of instability. The Good Friday Agreement is an important factor in any Brexit negotiations."
The Taoiseach said he had spoken of the potential built into the 1998 agreement for a border poll, because he wanted to defend Northern Ireland's long-term interests in upcoming Brexit talks at EU level.
If Brexit went ahead, when a majority in the North had voted against it, there was the prospect of a majority in the North opting to stay with the European Union and joining the Republic.
In that eventuality, he wanted to avoid a situation where Northern Ireland would be left in the back of a long EU membership application queue.
"The only point I'm making is that the discussions should be long-sighted enough and visionary enough to cater for that situation," the Taoiseach said.
Mr Kenny got strong support from Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin for his actions since the UK vote on June 23 to leave the EU. A spokesman for Mr Martin stressed the need for cross-party consensus in Ireland's post-Brexit response.
Mr Kenny was criticised by a leading Unionist politician who described the border poll remarks as "foolish" and "mischievous".
DUP MP Ian Paisley Jnr said the public in Northern Ireland from both nationalist and unionist communities had "no interest whatsoever" in a united Ireland.
Speaking on the RTÉ radio's 'News at One', Mr Paisley said calls for a referendum were motivated solely by causing "diversion". He singled out Mr Kenny and Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams, saying both leaderships are in crisis.
"I think we can dismiss it gently. We can recognise the fact there isn't going to be a border poll," Mr Paisley said.
Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan brushed aside suggestions that the Taoiseach's comments stoked up tensions in relations with Belfast and London. "A border poll now would be divisive and unhelpful and I see no evidence that it would change the status of Northern Ireland," Mr Flanagan said.
"But as co-guarantors of the Good Friday Agreement we have an obligation to take account of Northern Ireland citizens' concerns in Brexit negotiations. We are obliged to remind our EU colleagues of this."
Mr Martin said the evidence from opinion polls was that support for a united Ireland was declining. But he said there was scope for an "all-island forum", uniting politicians, citizens and business interests, to discuss the vast implications of Brexit.
When Mr Kenny suggested such a forum a fortnight ago, he was publicly rebuffed by Northern Ireland First Minister, Arlene Foster. But he told the Dáil he was considering how to advance things and would attend a British-Irish Council meeting in Cardiff on Friday.