Tanaiste Leo Varadker says united Ireland referendum 'not appropriate at this time'

Tanaiste Leo Varadker says united Ireland referendum 'not appropriate at this time'

TÁNAISTE Leo Varadkar has said it would not be appropriate at this time to hold a referendum on a united Ireland.

Sinn Féin, which supports a united Ireland referendum, won the most votes in the 2020 Irish General Election and the most seats in May's Assembly Elections in Northern Ireland.

However, Varadkar — who told the BBC's Sunday Politics Northern Ireland that he is personally in favour of a united Ireland — said other issues must take priority.

"In my mind a border poll at this stage would be both divisive and defeated and that wouldn't be a good outcome for anyone," he said.

The Tánaiste also called for greater clarity around when a referendum can be held, as set out in the Good Friday Agreement.

Unification a legitimate aspiration

Speaking to host Mark Carruthers, Varadkar said the most pressing issue in Northern Ireland is the restoration of power-sharing, which has been held up over the DUP's failure to engage with the process until its concerns over the Protocol are addressed.

"I believe the aspiration to a united Ireland is a legitimate one," said the Fine Gael leader.

"It is something supported by my party, something I believe in, something that our constitution aspires to as well, but I don't think it's appropriate or right at this time.

"Fundamentally, because I think we need to get the Assembly and the Executive up and running, we need to resolve the issues around the Protocol and I think that can be done, but also because the tests in the Good Friday Agreement aren't met.

"It's very clear in the Good Friday Agreement that the Secretary of State in Northern Ireland should call a referendum if it appears that there's a majority in favour of a united Ireland.

"That's not the case."

The Tánaiste justified his view by saying the nationalist SDLP lost seats in the latest Stormont elections and that Sinn Féin failed to add to the 27 seats it won in 2017, despite emerging as the largest party in May.

Poll clarity

Despite saying it was clear the threshold for a referendum had not been met, the Tanaiste himself called for clarity over when a poll could be held.

The Good Friday Agreement states that the Secretary of State can hold a referendum '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'.

"In theory it's the decision of the Secretary of State in Northern Ireland," said Varadkar.

"I doubt any Secretary of State would make that decision without consulting the Prime Minister and the cabinet.

"It doesn't really say clearly how that test is applied as to whether there is consistent public support for it — is the Secretary of State supposed to look at the Assembly Election results, is it opinion polls, what is it?

"I think that is something that really ought to be clarified and could be clarified."

The Tánaiste also said that while he believed a simple majority was a big enough result to call a referendum, he was opposed to 50 per cent plus one.

He would prefer as big a majority as possible rather than have 'a very large minority of people being brought into a united Ireland they didn't want to be part of'.