No other nationalist parties back SF’s demand for a border poll

Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams, joined by Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness and other Executive ministers, speaks to the media outside Stormont yesterday
Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams, joined by Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness and other Executive ministers, speaks to the media outside Stormont yesterday

Sinn Fein’s demand for a border poll in response to the UK’s momentous vote to leave the EU has been dismissed by the Government – and by Fianna Fail.

As the party had warned it would do in the event of a UK Leave vote but a Northern Ireland Remain vote, Sinn Fein on Friday called for a referendum on a united Ireland.

Gerry Adams’ party released a torrent of press statements from numerous party figures, each demanding a border poll.

Mr Adams said: “The people in the north voted to remain a part of the EU. The Good Friday Agreement is an international agreement. As a co-equal guarantor of the agreement, the Irish government must also defend the interests of all the people of the island of Ireland at the EU Council meeting next week and in any future negotiations.”

He added: “The British Government has no democratic mandate to represent the views of the north in any future negotiations with the EU.

“There is now a democratic imperative for a border poll. The Irish government should support this.”

But Sinn Fein on Friday found itself isolated on the issue.

The SDLP gave no indication that it was at all enthusiastic about the prospect.

A senior SDLP source told the News Letter: “If a border poll was called, we would of course fight it.

“But our focus at the minute is on trying to protect people who would be adversely affected by the resurrection of a hard border across the island of Ireland.”

And, speaking on behalf of Fianna Fail, TD Declan Breathnach also dismissed Sinn Fein’s call as “nothing more than political opportunism”.

Mr Breathnach, who represents the border constituency of Louth, said: “While the result is very regrettable, it has to be respected. As an island, we must now stand united so that we can work to address the challenges that this result poses for our people.

“I believe that Sinn Fein is being opportunistic calling for a border poll now. This is a time for cool, calm heads not knee-jerk reactions.

“Another constitutional referendum in the aftermath of this Brexit vote will only exacerbate uncertainty and instability.”

Instead, he called for Irish Foreign Minister Charlie Flanagan to meet Secretary of State Theresa Villiers “as soon as possible to set in place protocols on how to deal with border issues”.

Under the terms of the Northern Ireland Act, which implemented the 1998 Belfast Agreement, the Secretary of State can call a border poll if he or she believes that there is a possibility of Northern Ireland voting to leave the UK.

Yesterday Ms Villiers said: “I do not believe that such a referendum would be justified or helpful at present.

“The Belfast Agreement makes clear that the conditions under which I would be required to hold such a referendum. Those are that I have reason to believe there might be a majority support for a united Ireland.

“All the opinion surveys and polls of recent years have made it very clear that the majority of people in Northern Ireland support the Belfast Agreement, support the political settlement established and hence support Northern Ireland’s place within the United Kingdom.”

A Government spokesman added on Friday night: “The UK Government is strongly committed to the Belfast Agreement and the institutions it created. Nothing in this vote will undermine the workings of the devolved government, the North/South institutions or the British-Irish Council.

“The UK Government will continue to abide by its commitments in the Belfast Agreement. But there is no reason to change our view that a majority of the people of Northern Ireland support the current political settlement and want to remain part of the UK.

“As the Government made clear in its Northern Ireland manifesto last year, it continues to be the case that the requirements in the Belfast Agreement for a border poll are not met.”

First Minister Arlene Foster – who just a few years ago suggested the possibility of “calling Sinn Fein’s bluff” by supporting a border poll – yesterday rejected the Sinn Fein demand.

She said: “The call for a border poll was as predictable as the flowers in May.

“We knew it would come but the test has not been met so therefore I don’t believe it will happen.”