Belfast Telegraph

Difficult not to consider Irish re-unification: Paddy Ashdown

Former Liberal Democrat leader Paddy Ashdown has said if he lived in Northern Ireland he would be "hard put" not to consider Irish re-unification.

Lord Ashdown, who sits in the House of Lords and led the Liberal Democrats between 1988 and 1999, was writing on Twitter in the wake of the landslide Yes vote in the Republic's referendum on liberalising abortion laws.

He wrote: "A wonderful beauty is being born (sorry Yeats) [a reference to the Yeats poem 'Easter, 1916']. Ireland is becoming an advanced modern EU state. The effect in NI should not be underestimated. My Grandfather signed the Ulster declaration. But if the UK Brexits & I lived in NI, I would be hard put not to consider re-unification."

Paddy Ashdown was born in India to a military family, and spent most of his childhood in Northern Ireland, later serving as a soldier in the province during the 1970s.

He has been an outspoken critic of Brexit and previously made comparisons between the modern day UK and Germany in the 1930s.

His comments come alongside a number of Sinn Fein politicians calling for Irish unity to be considered in the wake of Friday's vote.

Speaking on ITV's Peston on Sunday programme, the party's leader in Northern Ireland Michelle O'Neill said: "I think in terms of the conversation at home now I think it is about the unity referendum."

Writing on Twitter on Sunday, the party's MEP Matt Carthy said: "The 'logic' behind partition was a fear of a Catholic dominated state. Ironically partition created that state. In 2018 that logic is redundant. There is no logical reason to maintain partition. It's time to reach our destiny #UnitedIreland".

Last week Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn came in for scrutiny during his visit to Northern Ireland for his views on Irish unity.

Ahead of his arrival, a spokesperson for Mr Corbyn said it was his belief most people on the island of Ireland wanted a united Ireland, but any change must be brought about through consent and the mechanisms of the Good Friday Agreement.

Lord Ashdown has previously come in for criticism for his stance on issues affecting Northern Ireland.

Last year the UUP hit out at the former Liberal leader after he said the Prime Minister should "never, ever put the country in the hands of an Ulsterman" - a reference to the then impending deal between Theresa May's Conservative Government and the DUP.

He explained the remarks were a reference to remarks made by former Labour Prime Minister James Callaghan, and he was talking about the importance of keeping Northern Ireland sectarian issues out of wider UK politics.

The Ulster declaration - known more widely by the Ulster Covenant - was a document protesting a Bill by the British government which would have established a Home Rule parliament in Dublin, and which was signed by almost 500,000 people on and before September 28, 1912.

Lord Ashdown's grandfather, RJ Hudson from Rathfriland, appeared among the signees.

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