Comments by the taoiseach raising the prospect of a future vote on Irish unity in the wake of Brexit have been branded pathetic and deliberately mischievous by a DUP MP.
Ian Paisley said he “expected better” from Taoiseach Enda Kenny after the Fine Gael leader said EU/UK negotiations should factor in the possibility that a border poll could be held in years to come.
Referring to recent scrutiny of Mr Kenny’s role as leader of a minority administration in Dublin, the North Antrim MP said the taoiseach’s time would be better served concentrating on his own future.
“It’s quite pathetic – one would have expected better from him,” said Mr Paisley.
The taoiseach’s remarks came 24 hours after the leader of the Republic’s main Opposition party – Fianna Fail’s Micheal Martin – voiced support for a potential border poll in the context of Northern Ireland voting to remain in the EU.
“The taoiseach is being deliberately mischievous,” said Mr Paisley.
“Enda should really be concentrating on his own future because we all know that he’ll be lucky if he’s still taoiseach in 18 months.
“He’s trying to ‘out-green’ Fianna Fail for electoral gain, that’s all they are about.”
He added: “There’s not going to be a border poll, that’s the bottom line.”
Mr Kenny made the remarks at the MacGill Summer School in Co Donegal on Monday night. He acknowledged the prospect of a referendum was quite a distance away, noting the idea would be “fanciful” to some, but he said the possibility should still be examined during UK/EU negotiations on Brexit.
Under the terms of the Belfast Agreement, the power to call a border poll rests with the Secretary of State. But the Northern Ireland Act stipulates that such a vote can only be called if there is evidence of a clear shift of public opinion in favour of Irish unity in Northern Ireland.
New Secretary of State for Northern Ireland James Brokenshire has insisted the outcome of the referendum did not provide grounds for triggering a vote on Irish unity.
The taoiseach said: “The discussion and negotiations that take place over the next period should take into account the possibility, however far out it might be, that the clause in the Good Friday Agreement might be triggered, in that if there is a clear evidence of a majority of people wishing to leave the United Kingdom and join the Republic, that should be catered for in the discussions.
“Because if that possibility were to happen, you would have Northern Ireland wishing to leave the United Kingdom, not being a member of the European Union, and joining the Republic, which will be a member of the EU.”
Mr Kenny went on to liken the scenario to East Germany having been able to adopt EU membership when it was reunified with West Germany.
UUP MLA Jenny Palmer described the comments as “much ado about nothing”.
She said: “Everyone who approaches the border poll issue with an ounce of sense recognises, as the taoiseach did yesterday, that there has to be evidence that a majority is likely to vote to change our constitutional position before a border poll can be triggered. The bottom line is that the evidence simply does not exist.”
In a statement, East Londonderry DUP MP Gregory Campbell said: “Now is a time for calm and I think the taoiseach and the Irish Government need to respect the decision of the UK.”
He added: “More heat than light at the moment will not help the situation. We need to move forward to get the best deal for Northern Ireland and that includes talking to both Brussels and Westminster, and to the Irish government where the cross border element is relevant.”