Shadow NI Secretary says he 'would call border poll' if certain criteria were met

Shadow NI Secretary says he 'would call border poll' if certain criteria were met

PETER KYLE, the Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, has said he would call a border poll if certain criteria were met.

The Labour MP was speaking in the wake of the publication this week of the 2021 Census figures, which shows Catholics outnumber Protestants in Northern Ireland for the first time.

Speaking to Darren Marshall on Sunday Politics Northern Ireland, Kyle said: "If the circumstances emerge as set out in the Good Friday Agreement, I, as Secretary of State, would not play games — I would call the border poll."

However, Kyle added the issue was not impacted by either this week's Census results or May's Assembly Election, in which Sinn Féin emerged as the largest party.

He also said the immediate focus should be on tackling the cost-of-living and public services crises in Northern Ireland.

'I will not be a barrier'

The Good Friday Agreement says the Secretary of State can call for a border poll 'if at any time it appears likely to him that a majority of those voting would express a wish that Northern Ireland should cease to be part of the United Kingdom and form part of a united Ireland'.

While it is not clear what would satisfy this requirement, Kyle said that he would elaborate on the criteria if he was Secretary of State.

"The criteria are broadly set out in the GFA — if at any point it does appear likely, we will start to do what is set out in the treaty, which is organise a border poll," he said.

"There is more to it than that, and that is about a sustained majority in favour of a united Ireland.

"If I become Secretary of State and it becomes very clear that those circumstances are emerging, I will set out in detail the criteria.

"I am not going to be a barrier if the circumstances emerge."

Criteria clarification

Kyle's comments recall those of Tánaiste Leo Varadkar, who said on the same programme in July that he wanted clarification on when a referendum on a united Ireland can be called.

"It doesn't really say clearly how that test is applied as to whether there is consistent public support for it," said the Tánaiste at the time.

"Is the Secretary of State supposed to look at the Assembly Election results, is it opinion polls, what is it?"

A 2019 report by The Constitutional Unit at UCL suggested a border poll could be triggered by a consistent majority in opinion polls, a Catholic majority in a Census, a nationalist majority in the Northern Ireland Assembly or a vote by a majority in the Assembly in favour of a poll.

However, it highlighted complications with all of these criteria.

"What is required is that the Secretary of State should make a rounded judgement based on all the evidence," read the report.

"But that is very much easier said than done where opinion is finely balanced."