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Taoiseach Enda Kenny plays down reports of referendum on Irish reunification

Published 25/11/2016

Enda Kenny played down talk of a referendum
Enda Kenny played down talk of a referendum

Ireland has enough on its plate with Brexit for it to deal with a referendum on reunifying the island, Taoiseach Enda Kenny said.

Mr Kenny made clear there was no prospect of a border poll in the near future as he attended the British Irish Council summit in Wales.

At a media conference, the Fine Gael leader was challenged on comments he reportedly made at a private party function that Brexit had opened up an "uncomplicated route" to a united Ireland.

Mr Kenny questioned the accuracy of the news reports and insisted the criteria for calling a referendum, as laid out in the Good Friday peace agreement of 1998, had not been met.

Under the terms of the accord, the UK Secretary of State can call a border poll, but only if there is clear evidence that public opinion in Northern Ireland was in favour of changing the constitutional position.

"This matter has been set out in the Good Friday Agreement, there is no intention of having a border poll now, there is no indication that a border poll will succeed now," said Mr Kenny.

"We have enough on our plates at the moment to deal with Brexit and the many challenges that arise from many other issues to deal with."

The result of the EU referendum drew fresh focus on the constitutional question.

Republicans pointed to the 56% in Northern Ireland that voted to Remain as significant in the context of the UK leaving an EU that would still count the Irish Republic as a member.

The existing border has also become a key issue in the overall discussions about Brexit, with the UK Government being pressed on how it can maintain free movement across it after the exit from the EU.

Malta's prime minister Joseph Muscat has stressed the importance of resolving how the border crossing would operate post-Brexit before other trade issues are addressed in the UK's exit negotiations with the EU. Malta assumes the presidency of the EU in January.

After the BIC summit, Northern Ireland's Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said he would like to see a united Ireland "tomorrow morning".

But he said he respected the terms of the peace agreement and noted that successive UK secretaries of state had made clear they "were not interested" in testing public opinion.

However, he again emphasised the EU vote, noting that the 56% were made up of unionists and nationalists.

"The 56% who saw their future in Europe voted to remain - that couldn't have been achieved without the support of unionists, nationalists and republicans voting together to achieve that," he said.

"I think that is very, very significant as we go forward."

Mr McGuinness also reiterated that Sinn Fein MPs would not suspend their abstentionist policy in respect of Westminster if MPs were asked to vote on the terms of Brexit.

Stormont First Minister Arlene Foster said coverage around a potential referendum were "non-stories".

"It won't surprise you to know that I don't want a united Ireland in the morning," said the DUP leader.

Mrs Foster said people should not misinterpret the outcome of the referendum.

"It was a vote on membership of the European Union, it was not a referendum in terms of Northern Ireland or the Republic of Ireland," she said.

"So this is a bit of a non-story but it comes up from time to time."

Current Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire said: "It is ultimately my decision in relation to a border poll and there is no evidence that the conditions requiring a border poll are met - indeed there is very, very strong support, continuing support, for the (present) political arrangements."

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