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Irish PM's border poll comments 'pathetic and deliberately mischievous'

Published 19/07/2016

Taoiseach Enda Kenny said EU/UK negotiations should factor in the possibility that a border poll could be held in years to come
Taoiseach Enda Kenny said EU/UK negotiations should factor in the possibility that a border poll could be held in years to come

Comments by Ireland's premier raising the prospect of a future vote on Irish unity in the wake of Brexit have been branded pathetic and deliberately mischievous by a senior unionist.

Ian Paisley Jnr said he "expected better" from Taoiseach Enda Kenny after the Fine Gael leader said EU/UK negotiations should factor in the possibility that a border poll could be held in years to come.

Referring to recent intense scrutiny of Mr Kenny's role as leader of a minority administration in Dublin, the Democratic Unionist North Antrim MP said the Taoiseach's time would be better served concentrating on his own future.

"It's quite pathetic - one would have expected better from him," said Mr Paisley.

The Taoiseach's remarks came 24 hours after the leader of the Republic's main Opposition party - Fianna Fail's Micheal Martin - voiced support for a potential border poll in the context of Northern Ireland voting to remain in the EU.

"The Taoiseach is being deliberately mischievous," said Mr Paisley.

"Enda should really be concentrating on his own future because we all know that he'll be lucky if he's still Taoiseach in 18 months.

"He's trying to 'out-green' Fianna Fail for electoral gain, that's all they are about."

He added: "There's not going to be a border poll, that's the bottom line."

Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams has welcomed Mr Kenny's remarks, made at the MacGill Summer School in Co Donegal on Monday night.

Mr Kenny acknowledged the prospect of a referendum was quite a distance away, noting the idea would be "fanciful" to some, but he said the possibility should still be examined during UK/EU negotiations on Brexit.

Mr Adams said the debate on a unity vote was a chance to look at relations on the island.

"You are never going to get a border poll unless the Irish Government is for it," he said.

"The Taoiseach's language was qualified insofar as he said it won't happen at this time, that's fair enough, the fact is he has raised the concept and he has said he is going to make this part of the Brexit negotiations and that is good."

Under the terms of the 1998 Good Friday peace agreement, the power to call a border poll rests with the Northern Ireland Secretary of State. But the accord stipulates that such a vote can only be called if there is evidence of a clear shift of public opinion in favour of Irish unity in Northern Ireland.

The issue of a poll has been the subject of renewed debate after Northern Ireland voted to remain in the EU in the face of the UK's decision to leave.

New Secretary of State for Northern Ireland James Brokenshire has insisted the outcome of the referendum did not provide grounds for triggering a vote on Irish unity.

Addressing the media after delivering a speech at the summer school on Monday, the Taoiseach said: "The discussion and negotiations that take place over the next period should take into account the possibility, however far out it might be, that the clause in the Good Friday Agreement might be triggered, in that if there is a clear evidence of a majority of people wishing to leave the United Kingdom and join the Republic, that should be catered for in the discussions.

"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."

Mr Kenny went on to liken the scenario to East Germany having been able to adopt EU membership when it was reunified with West Germany.

Ulster Unionist Assembly member Jenny Palmer described the comments as "much ado about nothing".

"Everyone who approaches the border poll issue with an ounce of sense recognises, as the Taoiseach did yesterday, that there has to be evidence that a majority is likely to vote to change our constitutional position before a border poll can be triggered," she said.

"The bottom line is that the evidence simply does not exist.

"Recent comments from various political quarters regarding the possibility of a border poll really amount to much ado about nothing.

"The priority in the wake of the (EU) referendum is for the Northern Ireland Executive to convince the people of Northern Ireland that they have a plan for the way forward for our economy, our farmers, our voluntary and community groups, our universities and everyone else who depends heavily on EU funding and support."

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