Sinn Féin TD for Louth Ruairí Ó Murchú has accused the government of ‘negligence and foolhardiness’ over lack of planning or work towards a referendum on Irish unity.
The newly elected Deputy says that the government are seeking excuses to do nothing on the subject – after a response from Tánaiste Simon Coveney said the government were not in the opinion people in Northern Ireland favour a change.
In his first parliamentary question as a member of Dáil Éireann, Ó Murchú asked Tánaiste Simon Coveney whether or not he will form a Citizen’s Assembly to establish to assess the impact of Irish Unity, citing recent polls suggesting that the majority of citizens both north and south of the border support a referendum, or border poll.
The Tánaiste, in response, said, “The holding of a referendum in this jurisdiction is connected with the calling of a border poll, under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement, in Northern Ireland. The decision to hold such a poll in Northern Ireland rests with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.
“I am aware of the opinion polls to which the Deputy refers but, on the balance of evidence at present, this Government does not believe it likely that a border poll in the near future would result in a decision on the part of a majority of the people of Northern Ireland in favour of constitutional change.”
Recent polling suggests that 51% of people in the north support Irish unity, while a Sunday Times/Panelbase poll carried out earlier in the year found that 80% of people in the south support Irish unity.
Ó Murchú says that the polls indicate “overwhelming and growing support for Irish Unity” and the Tánaiste’s stance goes against his responsibility to act in planning for reunification.
“I challenge his opinion, and the most up to date polling results support my claim,” Ó Murchú said.
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“Simon Coveney goes on to say that he thinks a unity referendum ‘would only increase uncertainty and division at an already difficult and sensitive time’. What evidence does he have that this would be the case? What the Minister is really looking for is an excuse to do nothing, to allow the status quo to persist.
“This is not good enough,” he added.
The Minister, in his written response to the PQ, said, “In these circumstances, it is the Government’s clear view that such a poll would only increase uncertainty and division at an already difficult and sensitive time.
“The Taoiseach has stated that the Government will continue to listen to and engage with the views of everyone on this island, both on rights issues and on the constitutional future that they wish to see for Northern Ireland – whether nationalist, unionist or neither.”
The Sinn Féin Deputy, speaking on the subject of Brexit, commended the government on their role in the Brexit negotiations but included that caveat of fears that British Prime Minister Boris Johnson may attempt to lessen the rigidity of the withdrawal agreement terms.
“The truth is that Boris Johnson has already indicated that he intends to ‘get around’ some of the provisions contained within the Withdrawal Agreement. The caretaker Minister must know that there is only one permanent solution to Brexit and that is Irish Unity,” he said.
“It is imperative that the incoming government, which will hopefully be led by Sinn Féin, is proactive on this issue and that a Green Paper is produced as quickly as possible. At this time the only people not talking about Irish Unity is the Irish Government. This cannot continue, it is negligent and foolhardy of the government not to plan for the future and for Irish Unity.”