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Do the results in the North make a united Ireland more likely? 'People shouldn't race ahead of themselves' says Varadkar

The Taoiseach said the tectonic plates of the political landscape in the North have shifted.

Varadkar says the political landscape in the North has shifted in the last few elections.
Varadkar says the political landscape in the North has shifted in the last few elections.
Image: Francisco Seco

DO THE ELECTION results in the North make a united Ireland more likely now? 

That was a question posed to Taoiseach Leo Varadkar today in Brussels. 

“People shouldn’t race ahead of themselves with other plans,” he said. 

The focus between now and 13 January is getting Stormont, the Executive and the Assembly back working again, Varadkar added.

“I think we have seen without doubt a big change in the political landscape in Northern Ireland in the last three elections. The Assembly, the European elections and now the House of Commons elections, which show neither nationalists or unionists have a majority anymore in Northern Ireland and there is an expanding centre ground with the Alliance and others so that is a change,” he said. 

For the first time, Northern Ireland has more nationalist than unionist MPs. 

Sinn Féin took seven seats, while the DUP took eight seats. The SDLP won two seats, with the Alliance Party taking one seat in Westminster. 

A definitive list can be found here

While the Taoiseach said the tectonic plates of the political landscape in the North have shifted, as he put it, what should underpin it all is the Good Friday Agreement. 

“What hasn’t changed is that the future for us in Ireland is reconciliation, its power sharing, it’s closer cooperation between North and South and also between Britain and Ireland, and that’s the philosophy underpinning the Good Friday Agreement.”

Varadkar said there is no time to waste in terms of getting the institutions in the North operational again. 

If talks to revive Stormont, which are due to start on Monday, do not result in agreement by the 13 January deadline, then direct rule will be considered.

“We’ll be giving this everything between now and January to get the Assembly and Executive up and running.

“If at that point there is no power-sharing restored in Northern Ireland, we’re then looking into another assembly election in Northern Ireland, and I can’t imagine who would really want that,” said Varadkar. 

This evening, Varadkar spoke with UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson by phone. 

Both leaders agreed there is now a significant opportunity to restore the Good Friday Agreement institutions and pledged to work with the Northern Ireland parties to achieve this. 

They also discussed how to strengthen the bilateral relationship between Ireland and the UK. 

Varadkar congratulated Johnson on his election victory and they both agreed to stay in close contact in the period ahead. 

Sinn Féin

Despite Varadkar’s warning that now is not the time to rush for a border poll, Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said “it is now impossible to ignore the growing demand for a referendum on Irish unity and I want to reiterate Sinn Féin’s call for the Irish government to establish an All-Ireland Forum on Irish unity without delay”.

Speaking about the results, McDonald said it was a “historic election and a defining moment in our politics”.

“Brexit has changed the political landscape in Ireland, in Britain and in Europe.

“All the old certainties are gone,” she said. 

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On the issue of Stormont, she said Sinn Féin wants to see a successful conclusion of the talks established by the two governments and the political institutions restored on a credible and a sustainable basis.

“I and our negotiating team stand ready to re-enter talks with the two governments and the other parties on Monday and we will work towards securing agreement on outstanding issues.

“We need a new kind of politics, a new Assembly and a new Executive, which is underpinned by the resources to deliver quality public services,” said McDonald.

With reporting by Hayley Halpin

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