LEO VARADKAR has called for the reunification of Ireland and the north, stating he believes Fine Gael can make it happen within his lifetime.
The Tánaiste and Fine Gael leader made the comments at the party Ard Fheis yesterday, where he told party members that "tectonic plates are shifting" in Northern Ireland and it would be in Fine Gael's best interests to establish a branch of the party there, as Fine Gael is the correct party to "unify our island".
According to The Irish Examiner, Mr Varadkar told the party "I believe in the unification of our island and I believe it can happen in my lifetime".
"It means the unification of the people of our island, as well as the territory of Ireland, and it is a legitimate political aspiration."
Fine Gael would not contest Northern Ireland elections, he said, but would engage with communities in the six counties, and while "the view of unionists must be acknowledged, understood and respected ... no one group can have a veto on Ireland's future".
"We should be proud to say that unification is something we aspire to", Mr Varadkar said, adding it should be a part of Fine Gael's "mission" to work towards it.
His plan is to engage with communities and recruit people to Fine Gael, both the public and people from "like-minded" parties in the north, in particular to "the middle ground"-- those who identify as both British and Irish.
Sinn Féin have long called for the reunification of the island, but their vision is "crude", exclusive and "a cold form of republicanism" which is anti-British, the Fine Gael leader said.
He said a discussion is needed to consider what the Irish people would be willing to change in order to reunify the island, including changed titles, the role of devolution in the north, the status of the English, Irish and Ulster-Scots languages and a new, closer relationship with the United Kingdom.
Northern Ireland's National Health Service and the Republic's welfare and pensions system could represent "the best of both jurisdictions" in a new unified Ireland, and "until these questions are answered .... then a border poll is premature".
"We have a duty to engage with each other and others to find answers to these questions."
Fine Gael is in a coalition with Fianna Fáil, whose leader Micheál Martin has repeatedly said that a border poll would be divisive and is not on the agenda for the next five years.
Mr Varadkar's speech yesterday evening is the first time he has openly called for the reunification of Ireland and Northern Ireland.