Ireland has enough on its plate without a border poll, says Kenny

First Minister of Northern Ireland Arlene Foster MLA on Friday at the British Irish Council summit at the Vale Resort near Cardiff.
First Minister of Northern Ireland Arlene Foster MLA on Friday at the British Irish Council summit at the Vale Resort near Cardiff.

Ireland has enough on its plate with Brexit for it to deal with a referendum on reunifying the island, Taoiseach Enda Kenny said.

Mr Kenny made clear there was no prospect of a border poll in the near future as he attended the British Irish Council summit in Wales.

At a media conference, the Fine Gael leader was challenged on comments he reportedly made at a private party function that Brexit had opened up an “uncomplicated route” to a united Ireland.

Mr Kenny questioned the accuracy of the news reports, and insisted the criteria for calling a referendum – as laid out in the Good Friday peace agreement of 1998 – had not been met.

Under the terms of the accord, the UK Secretary of State can call a border poll, but only if there is clear evidence that public opinion in Northern Ireland was in favour of changing the constitutional position.

“This matter has been set out in the Good Friday Agreement, there is no intention of having a border poll now, there is no indication that a border poll will succeed now,” said Mr Kenny.

“We have enough on our plates at the moment to deal with Brexit and the many challenges that arise from many other issues to deal with.”

After the BIC summit in Cardiff, Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said he would like to see a united Ireland “tomorrow morning”.

But he said he respected the terms of the peace agreement and noted that successive UK secretaries of state had made clear they “were not interested” in testing public opinion.

However, he again emphasised the EU vote, noting that the 56% were made up of unionists and nationalists.

“The 56% who saw their future in Europe voted to remain - that couldn’t have been achieved without the support of unionists, nationalists and republicans voting together to achieve that,” he said.

“I think that is very, very significant as we go forward.”

Mr McGuinness also reiterated that Sinn Fein MPs would not suspend their abstentionist policy in respect of Westminster if MPs were asked to vote on the terms of Brexit.

Stormont First Minister Arlene Foster said coverage around a potential referendum were “non-stories”.

“It won’t surprise you to know that I don’t want a united Ireland in the morning,” said the DUP leader.

Mrs Foster said people should not misinterpret the outcome of the referendum.

“It was a vote on membership of the European Union, it was not a referendum in terms of Northern Ireland or the Republic of Ireland,” she said.

“So this is a bit of a non-story but it comes up from time to time.”

Current Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire said: “It is ultimately my decision in relation to a border poll and there is no evidence that the conditions requiring a border poll are met - indeed there is very, very strong support, continuing support, for the (present) political arrangements.”

Meanwhile, devolved leaders have challenged the Prime Minister on why she stayed away from the Brexit-themed summit that focused on regional concerns around free trade.

Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and Northern Ireland’s Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said Theresa May should have attended the BIC meeting in Wales.

Top of the agenda was how the UK could maintain access to the European Single Market post-Brexit if it denied freedom of movement to EU citizens.

BIC summits are held twice a year. UK prime ministers have attended in the past, but not on a regular basis.

Sinn Fein veteran Mr McGuinness said the context of Friday’s event should have prompted Mrs May to take part.

“I think the British Prime Minister should have been here today,” he said.

“She is a new British Prime Minister, this was her first opportunity to attend the meeting of the British Irish Council and to meet with the devolved institutions and the Crown dependencies and I think it was a missed opportunity on her behalf.”

During the post-summit press conference, Mrs Sturgeon echoed Mr McGuinness’s remarks.

“I agree strongly with that,” she said.

Four UK Government ministers did attend the discussions at the Vale Resort, but no senior Cabinet members were among them.

Those who partook were Welsh Secretary Alun Cairns; Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire; Parliamentary Under Secretary at the Department for Exiting the European Union Robin Walker; and Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Women, Equalities and Early Years Caroline Dinenage.

When asked if Mrs May should have be there, Mr Brokenshire said: “The Prime Minister strongly supports the British Irish Council, that’s why you had two Cabinet ministers and two other ministers here today strongly representing the UK government’s perspective.”

The summit took place in the wake of comments by Malta’s Prime Minister Joseph Muscat making clear that unfettered single market access could not be offered if it was not accompanied by free movement. Malta will assume the six-month rolling presidency of the EU in January.