Claims by the Taoiseach that the majority of people in Northern Ireland will want to become Irish following Brexit have been branded “ludicrous and absurd” by a DUP MP.
Leo Varadkar made the comment at the European Council summit in Brussels last week, saying that people in Northern Ireland — including unionists — would want to become Irish or European citizens “at the very least for convenience”.
But his comments were rejected by Gregory Campbell, who said he could not see Mr Varadkar’s rationale.
“To try and infer this is some sort of declaration of Irishness is just ludicrous and absurd,” he claimed.
“To state what he has done without any evidence gives the appearance of declaring that there are people in Northern Ireland who would prefer to be Irish.
“Last week I got the latest reply about the other side of the equation — that tens of thousands of his own citizens are applying each year for British passports.
“The numbers are increasing and that is something he did not take into account.
“The point I was making was that he should not conclude that because applications for Irish passports have increased that is in any way a political statement.
“Some people avail of two passports for all sorts of reasons.
“Some people are happy to live outside the EU but like to travel within it.
“Businesses owners could have access to the EU with an Irish passport and access to the UK with a British one. There are some people who avail of two passports because it makes travel much simpler and offers entitlement to things like free healthcare while they are abroad.
“I think it is odd for him to say that applying for a passport is a person making a political point and that he would make such a statement without producing any evidence to back it up.”
Mr Campbell said answers to parliamentary questions he had asked revealed that over 10,000 people a year in the Republic are applying for a UK passport.
He told the Sunday Business Post: “So in the last 10 years they’ve got 100,000 people in the Taoiseach’s country wanting to be British.
“So I don’t know if he has addressed that reality. He might like to assess and analyse before he makes assessments based on conjecture.”
Mr Campbell said Mr Varadkar was implying that the majority of citizens in Northern Ireland would wish to become Irish and this had “no statistical basis”.
He continued: “He knows that is not the case, to declare the majority are doing so when he has no statistical basis for saying so.
“It is part of the wider EU pressuring of the British Government to get them to agree to a deal that they otherwise would not agree to.
“Hopefully he will be able to take on board the evidence I have produced which he should consider because there are thousands of citizens in his country that want to be British, and that is something he should think about.”
The DUP and Sinn Fein have until October 30 as a final deadline to reach a deal on power-sharing.
Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire warned the parties they were headed for direct rule if they failed to do so. Meanwhile, support for Sinn Fein in the Republic has decreased, a poll has revealed.
In an analysis for first preference vote intention conducted by Red C, Sinn Fein dropped two points to 14% — the same level of support it received in last year’s Irish general election.
The party’s popularity among voters peaked at 18% in a poll in July last year.
Fine Gael remains the most popular party at 29%, one point down from 30% in September 2016. It is followed by Fianna Fail on 25%, dropping one point since the same period.
Sinn Fein is in third position.
The Independent Alliance, Green Party and Solidarity People Before Profit party are all on 4%, the Social Democrats are on 2% and Renua is close to zero.