Northern Ireland Secretary ‘comfortable’ Irish reunification will not happen ‘in my lifetime’

Northern Ireland Secretary ‘comfortable’ Irish reunification will not happen ‘in my lifetime’

NORTHERN Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris does not see the reunification of Ireland happening in his lifetime he confirmed this week.

Speaking in the House of Commons, the MP for Daventry claimed he was “comfortable” to go on record saying he believed that Northern Ireland would remain part of the United Kingdom for as long as he lives.

He made the claim during a Commons debate yesterday afternoon which followed the announcement of a Government deal with the DUP that would return power-sharing to Stormont after a two-year hiatus.

During the discussion, Conservative MP Richard Drax claimed the topic of Northern Ireland related to “highly emotive issues” stating: “When we left the EU, we were promised we would leave as a United Kingdom.”

He added: “What is unhelpful is the whisperings from Sinn Féin on unification at this highly emotive time”.

He was referring to a statement made by Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald yesterday suggesting the return to power-sharing came at an historic time that she believes has the power to reunite the island of Ireland.

“In historic terms, it is within touching distance, and I think that is a very exciting thing and I hope people will find that a very welcoming conversation,” Ms McDonald said.

DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson and Secretary of State Chris Heaton-Harris, unveiled the latest post-Brexit deal, Safeguarding the Union in Belfast yesterday

Mr Drax, however, who is the MP for south Dorset, sought reassurance from the Northern Ireland Secretary that such unification would never happen.

“Can you tell me and the members and this country that Northern Ireland will always be a part of the United Kingdom, because they are stronger together?” he asked Mr Heaton-Harris.

Responding, the NI Secretary admitted that he must “tread slightly more carefully on that particular issue because I am the secretary of state responsible for making an independent assessment of the conditions that might lead to the border poll that [Mr Drax] suggests”.

“But I genuinely can say to him that I am comfortable that in my lifetime, certainly, Northern Ireland will be a strong and wonderfully prosperous part of the United Kingdom,” he said.

“However, it is very important to outline the parts of the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement that allow for all these things to happen, and any change will absolutely depend on the consent of both communities at the time and certainly I don’t think anybody judges that to be in place at this point," he added.

Reacting to the statement, SDLP leader Colum Eastwood, who is the MP for Foyle, addressed the House.

“I think it is important to point out that the people of Ireland, North and south, will decide the constitutional future of Ireland and nobody else," he said.

Referring to the DUP deal, he added: “This is a very good day for the people of Northern Ireland.

“I think we are about to see something very significant - we will have the first ever nationalist first minister and the first ever nationalist leader of the opposition, and I wish them all well.”

Mr Eastwood was referring to the fact that his party colleague Matthew O’Toole, the MLA for South Belfast, is likely to assume the mantle of leader of the opposition when Stormont returns.

The details of the DUP deal, entitled Safeguarding the Union, were revealed yesterday. It is expected to be fast-tracked through parliament today.

Under the proposals, there will be no checks when goods move within the UK internal market system.

It will also end the “automatic pipeline of EU law” in the North and “affirm Northern Ireland's place in the Union”.

Under the plans a new UK East-West Council will be established to examine UK-wide business opportunities and challenges, which will be overseen by a new public body, InterTrade UK, which aims to promote and facilitate trade within the UK.

Once the legislation is passed, the power-sharing institutions are expected to return to govern Northern Ireland, where Sinn Féin's Michelle O'Neill will take up the role of First Minister.