UK hits back after Leo Varadkar says he could see united Ireland in his lifetime

16 June 2021, 18:08

Leo Varadkr said he could see united Ireland in his lifetime and that it should be the party's "mission"
Leo Varadkr said he could see united Ireland in his lifetime and that it should be the party's "mission". Picture: PA

By Daisy Stephens

Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis has expressed his surprise that Tanaiste Leo Varadkar said he could see Irish reunification in his lifetime.

"We would be concerned about any deviation from the principle of consent as enshrined in the Belfast Good Friday Agreement, but that agreement of course does respect the right of anyone to express their views and we fully support that," said Mr Lewis.

"We do note the recent Life and Times survey which has support for a united Ireland at a low of 30% in Northern Ireland and I also am aware of the polls which put Sinn Fein ahead in the Republic, which may explain the timing of some of these comments from the Tanaiste.

"I would urge everyone to dial down any rhetoric, particularly at this time of year, I think it is unhelpful and ill-advised.

"Whatever the circumstances, this Government will support the principle of consent and all of our obligations under the Belfast Good Friday Agreement."

Mr Varadkar told the Fine Gael Ard Fheis - the party's political conference - on Tuesday that Irish reunification should be the party's "mission", and he called for an increase in engagement with communities in Northern Ireland.

He said the "tectonic plates were shifting" in the region and called for his party to establish a branch across the border.

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"There is never a bad time to talk about the future of Ireland and Ireland's place in Europe and the world," he has since said.

"I don't think the debate around reunification belongs to any one political party.

"There may be a political party who wants it that way but that's wrong. This is a legitimate objective, it's in our Constitution.

"Irish people voted in a referendum to enshrine it in our Constitution in 1997.

"It's also in the Good Friday Agreement.

“What I would like to talk about though is what reunification might look like.

"A lot of questions (are) unanswered about that and I want my party to be involved and lead the debate and discussion on what (the) position may be and that's my motivation about it."

His comments have attracted criticism from some unionists.

DUP MP Gavin Robinson described them as "deeply unhelpful and a destabilising contribution".

Bur Mr Varadkar defended the comments, saying it should not affect relations between the parties in Northern Ireland.

"If they are unable to put together an Executive in the next week, it will be because of relations between parties in Northern Ireland and not for anything external," he added.

"My view in the round is it's always good to talk about the future."