We need your help now

Support from readers like you keeps The Journal open.

You are visiting us because we have something you value. Independent, unbiased news that tells the truth. Advertising revenue goes some way to support our mission, but this year it has not been enough.

If you've seen value in our reporting, please contribute what you can, so we can continue to produce accurate and meaningful journalism. For everyone who needs it.

Varadkar at today's News Xchange conference. Twitter
bye bye united ireland

Leo Varadkar: Losing a border poll would 'take the issue off the agenda for a long period'

An Taoioseach said he supports unity and this ‘should not be radical’.

TAOISEACH LEO VARADKAR has told a conference in Dublin that a border poll would “probably be defeated” if one were held now and that this would present a problem for those in favour of unification. 

Varadkar, who described himself as someone who would like to see a United Ireland, said in places like Australia and Quebec where constitutional votes were defeated it relegated the issues down the national agenda.

“I think the difficulty with a border poll is I think it would certainly be divisive in Northern Ireland but it would also probably be defeated in Northern Ireland,” he said. 

Varadkar said he wanted to preface his remarks by stating that his desire to to a United Ireland “should not be seen as radical” because the Irish Constitution also contains an aspiration for unity. 

Varadkar was speaking to BBC Newsline presenter Tara Mills at the European Broadcasting Union’s News Xchange conference in the Convention Centre Dublin.

Varadkar told the audience that he did not believe the conditions have been met to hold unity votes in Ireland.

“If you look at what the Good Friday Agreement says, it makes provision for a border poll, it makes provision for a referendum on unification, but it says in the Good Friday Agreement that it should only happen when the Secretary of State Northern Ireland has formed the opinion that it might pass,” he said. 

The biggest difficulty of a referendum, or a border poll that would be unsuccessful, would be that it would probably take the issue off the agenda for a long period of time.

“Just look at the referendum for example on a republic in Australia, that must be 20-25 years ago now. If you look at the referendum on the independence of Quebec in Canada, defeated narrowly and that’s not really on the political agenda anymore.”

Holding concurrent referendums north and south on unity is provided for within the Good Friday Agreement should the UK’s Secretary of State for Northern Ireland determine that such referendums are likely to pass. 

While that is clear within the GFA, there is a lack of clarity over the metrics the Secretary would use to make that judgement. 

Put to him today that there is “ambiguity” around this issue, Varadkar agreed but said that empirical facts such as Assembly seats can be used. 

“If we look at the elections, even though Sinn Féin have been doing extremely well in the elections, they’ve largely been doing well at the expense of other nationalist parties,” Varadkar said.

The last Assembly election in which Sinn Fein emerged as the largest party, and well done to them for achieving that, the number of nationalist MLAs actually went down. And you’ll see the vote for parties that advocate for unification is really stuck in or around 40%. 

Speaking about Sinn Féin south of the border, Varadkar said the party has managed to “dominate opposition” but added that they are unlikely to have enough support to enter government without the support of others in the Dáil. 

“Things change once an election is called and public opinion resets, it can reset for you or against you. You never really know until it happens,” he said. 

“And also to form a government in the proportional system you need to have about 50% of the vote. The reason why we have this three party coalition of Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Greens is because our combined support was just over 50% in the election. Now, Sinn Féin’s doing well in opinion polls but it’s low 30s, it’s well short of the 50% that you’d need to form in the form of government.”

Speaking elsewhere this afternoon following the Taoiseach’s comments, Sinn Fein vice president Michelle O’Neill challenged Varadkar to take a role of responsibility in terms of planning for constitutional change in Ireland.

“I think the Taoiseach should roll up his sleeves and get to work around the preparation and planning for constitutional change,” she told reporters at Stormont.

Let’s have a really healthy, informed debate around what the future could look like, how it could be better for everybody who shares this island.

“I would encourage the Taoiseach to actually take a role of responsibility in terms of planning for constitutional change – have the Citizens’ Assembly, let’s talk about the health service in the event of constitutional change, let’s talk about what education looks like, what the economy looks like, the benefits that it could bring. I think that’s where his energies should be better placed.”

- With reporting by Press Association

Your Voice
Readers Comments
This is YOUR comments community. Stay civil, stay constructive, stay on topic. Please familiarise yourself with our comments policy here before taking part.
Leave a Comment
    Submit a report
    Please help us understand how this comment violates our community guidelines.
    Thank you for the feedback
    Your feedback has been sent to our team for review.

    Leave a commentcancel