Belfast Telegraph

Sinn Fein border poll calls 'not wise and not welcome' says Coveney

Simon Coveney (Niall Carson/PA)
Simon Coveney (Niall Carson/PA)

Tanaiste Simon Coveney has said that calls for an Irish border poll are unhelpful, particularly during the Brexit negotiations.

The Irish Foreign Minister was speaking at a dinner on Brexit in Dublin with Irish civil servants.

There have been persistent calls for a border poll from the Sinn Fein leadership in recent months. Party leader in Northern Ireland Michelle O'Neill said the issue was given renewed prominence following the vote to repeal the Eight Amendment in Ireland last weekend.

However a recent poll showed that a united Ireland was only supported by 21% of people in Northern Ireland. The Good Friday Agreement states the Secretary of state should call a border poll if its felt a majority would support unification.

Mr Coveney called on political groups to focus on the "matter at hand" as Brexit discussions continue.

The Tanaiste said that such calls were "not wise and not welcome at this sensitive juncture".

Mr Coveney said that recent calls for a border poll risked provoking further division in Northern Ireland, but acknowledged the constitutional right of self-determination for unionists and nationalists.

“We can see the support for a sensible Brexit outcome in all communities in Northern Ireland, where a recent high-profile poll puts support for staying within the single market and customs union at 85%,” he said.

“But we should also be understanding of the sensitive juncture which we’re at. Calls from some quarters for a Border poll now or in the near future are not wise and not welcome.”

“We should not confuse optimism and positivity over future relations with any naivety over current talks. On the contrary – we are clear-eyed that greater intensity and realism needs to be brought to bear. And also that this needs to happen urgently."

He said there would be no Brexit agreement without a backstop on a hard border.

“It is acknowledged now that the EU and UK teams have not made the headway since March that we had hoped they would,” said Mr Coveney.

“In response, we have made two things very clear. Firstly, that significantly more progress must be made on the protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland before the June European Council. And secondly, that there will be no final withdrawal agreement, in October or at any stage, without that backstop on avoiding a hard border.”

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