Fine Gael minister Leo Varadkar says he will live to see united Ireland
Comments by Varadkar bring ‘Methuselah’ jibe from DUP MP who tells Republic’s politicians to ‘butt out’ and instead concentrate on their own domestic difficulties
A Fine Gael minister tipped to be the next Taoiseach has been told to butt out of Northern Ireland after he claimed he will see a united Ireland in his lifetime.
Dail Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar made the comment during an address to the MacGill Summer School in Donegal on Thursday.
It prompted a tonge-in-cheek query from DUP MP Gregory Campbell, who asked Mr Varadkar if he planned to live as long Methuselah in The Bible, who lasted 969 years.
Mr Varadkar said he expected to witness reunification in his lifetime, but did not know "at what point".
"Fine Gael is a united Ireland party and that remains an objective," he said.
However, he shied away from calling for a border poll, saying he did not feel it would be a good idea at this time. He added work needed to be done between the unionist and nationalist communities in the North before that could happen.
His remarks come after Taoiseach Enda Kenny qualified his recent comments about holding a border poll.
Speaking in the Dail, he said: "There will be no border poll now. There is no evidence of a majority wanting to join the Republic."
The head of the European police agency Europol Rob Wainwright also spoke out in recent days, saying he did not believe there would be violence in the event of reunification.
Mr Campbell claimed the recent comments from the Irish Government were "simply an attempt to deflect attention from their own problems".
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"Leo Varadkar would be better to look at the problems in his party and those that Irish Government are faced with," he said.
"We have no interest in becoming embroiled in domestic internal Irish politics, as Fine Gael try to respond to Fianna Fail." He welcomed the fact that Mr Varadkar qualified his thoughts by saying that a border poll should not take place yet.
"He said it would be unsuccessful and that is because the reality is the majority of people in Northern Ireland want to remain in the UK," Mr Campbell said.
"His reference to a united Ireland in his lifetime merely allows cynics to ask if he is planning to live as long as the biblical Methuselah. The EU referendum has taken place and the vote must be respected.
"The referendum was about whether the United Kingdom as a whole wanted to leave the EU - it was not on a united Ireland.
"The UK Government has made its position clear on a border poll - consistent with previous agreements.
"The new Prime Minister noted in her speech outside 10 Downing Street that she believed in the Union and now is the time for all to work constructively to get the best solution for everyone in Northern Ireland."
Sinn Fein and the SDLP have both called for a border poll in the wake of the vote to leave the EU last month.
But an Ulster Unionist spokesperson slapped down the question of a border poll as a "red herring".
"As Mr Varadkar himself acknowledged, it would be unsuccessful," he said.
"We do acknowledge that the referendum result unsettled many of Northern Ireland's Irish nationalists.
"It is up to others who supported Brexit to explain why they stirred the hornets' nest, but the real issue is the shocking lack of planning from the Northern Ireland Executive."
A spokesman for Mr Varadkar told the Belfast Telegraph yesterday that he was not available for further comment.