Give goal of Irish unity same respect as wish to maintain Union – Varadkar

The aspiration for Irish unity must be afforded the same respect in Northern Ireland as the desire to maintain the Union, the Irish premier has said.

Leo Varadkar said equal standing for the competing political goals was at the heart of the Good Friday Agreement’s concept of parity of esteem.

The Taoiseach recently faced criticism from the DUP for talking about the potential weakening of the Union in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

DUP leader Arlene Foster accused him of engaging in “Project Fear mark two” and deputy leader Nigel Dodds claimed he was breaching the 1998 peace accord by “talking up” the prospect of unification.

Arlene Foster
Arlene Foster (Liam McBurney/PA)

On a visit to Northern Ireland on Tuesday, Mr Varadkar said he hoped Brexit would not bring “constitutional questions to the fore”.

But he said the comments in Co Donegal last month which drew criticism from the DUP were about not “burying our head in the sand” and acknowledging that a no-deal Brexit could raise questions about the constitutional position.

He reiterated that he did not want to see a border poll in the near future.

“My position and that of the Government has always been consistent that we don’t favour a border poll at this time,” he said.

“We believe there would be a high probability that it would be defeated and it would be divisive, I think, here in Northern Ireland.

“However, the Good Friday Agreement – and I always come back to the Good Friday Agreement on these matters – the Good Friday Agreement points out that the aspiration to Irish unity is one that should be respected, one that should have parity of esteem in the same way as the aspiration to strengthen the Union and maintain the Union should be respected.

“And the Good Friday Agreement does include provision for a border poll at a certain point in time, under certain circumstances, and that is what the principle of consent in the Good Friday Agreement is all about – that Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom because the people of Northern Ireland want it to be, but the people of Northern Ireland have a choice to change that by referendum should they choose to in the future.

“But it’s not something I am looking for at the moment.”

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